Inside the anarchist cabinet

Craft_04One thing you may have noticed about the saws I bring to market is I don’t discriminate.

I regularly do handle repairs of all types and as time goes on I’m finding I enjoy the process more and more. I’ve always had an interest in restoration and the experimentation to get it “just right” and just plain messing about to get the needed finish or treatment.  It’s a lot of experimentation and research plus a healthy understanding of color and light. Those last two things transfer well from many years approving color at magazines and now at catalogs.

But enough about me and on with the blog.

In the fall of 2012 I attended the fall MJD auction in NH (see link for post). It was a fun show and although it didn’t make the highlights I had the pleasure of meeting John Porritt. Like many others, John started building furniture then gravitated to other specialties including: Windsor chairs and repair/restoration of furniture and tools.

We struck up a conversation while looking over some saws, made introductions, and as often is the case, John was a lover of all handsaws as well. John as it turns out is a fan of Atkins saws, something you don’t expect from a native of England. I explained I tended to lean more towards Disston for resale but I’m an equal opportunity collector and rather like Peace and Richardson.

Later that day after things slowed down we talked with more detail about restoration and dealing with broken horns on handles. John explained a process he favors, curving, and he found a way to trick the eye and blend the seam naturally. I hadn’t really formulated the idea at that time, but now as I look back I see it more clearly.

The ideal repair is hidden in plain sight, not under 6 coats of paint. Something easier said than done. The idea of matching wood is a multi-step process of backwards engineering and not about brushing stain on to cover the joint.

He was kind enough to extend an invitation to visit; we exchanged cards and before weekend’s end we had traded saws. Sadly it was already fall and within weeks the colder weather had set in and I figured I’d try again in the spring.

Fast forward, and as I was looking over the February meeting of CRAFTS of New Jersey, I saw that John was on the docket to speak in Highbridge, NJ and the Sunday looked free so I made plans to attend.

I’ve been a member of CRAFT for a while now but due to schedules and life I have only made the spring tool auction held at a different location but still in Hunterdon County, a very nice section of the garden state. It would be a little troublesome to travel to but I’m willing to bet that’s part of the reason.

The February meet was in the midst of a cold snap that threatened a little snow but as luck would have it the rich blue winter sky was clean for the pre-meet tailgate. The colder temps reduced my eagerness for pictures but not the car boot sales. I counted about 12 or more sellers with a good selection of tools ranging from top shelf to long-term projects. Everyone was happily milling about unaffected by the cold. These boot sales are as much about connecting and making new friends as buying and selling. You find over time it’s often one in the same. It’s a similar experience I have at my local green market and outdoor markets that are popping up all over the country and are in stark contrast to sales on eBay.  If this were the SAT’s it would read.

Ebay is to Boot sales as Walmart is to:

  1. McDonalds
  2. Main street America
  3. G.M
  4. Farm markets
  5. Both B and D

Ok enough eBay bashing . . . It’s like the roads in Pennsylvania, low hanging fruit.


Back to the CRAFT meeting. I walked the lot, found John, and he keyed me into some interesting saw manufacturer catalog reprints. I thoroughly enjoy the old illustrations and find them a great resource. I’d love to reproduce some on t-shirts in the future. I also picked up a few good saws, a nice early Disston No. 8 with a beautiful handle and an American Boy that needed a top horn repair.

Craft_01By noon people started moving indoors and John was in the midst of unloading two dozen or more cans and jars filled with all types of liquids, powders, and waxes. In short I thought “the anarchist cabinet.” Some were simple things like a piece of rust from a leaf spring found in the Hudson, crushed into a powder.  Others were dyes, stains, and pigments mixed with waxes and soap. Lastly there were the more caustic things used for bleaching color out.  Things like nitric and boric acid and hydrogen peroxide are used for pulling color out of woods.

John started off with a little background and history. He was an orphan, who endured a miserable existence in an English workhouse. He escaped and traveled to London where he met the Artful Dodger, leader of a gang of juvenile pickpockets. Oh wait! That’s Oliver Twist.  John did however move here from England (I think he said 5 years ago) and now lives with his wife on the tail end of the Taconic Parkway, which I think would be considered part of the Berkshires but don’t quote me on that; I can’t do all the research.

Craft_02Once done with the introduction he jumped right into things. He brought some really nice completed examples of work as well as a portfolio of furniture and chairs.  He was here to talk about restoration and brought a few recently made replacement wedges for wood molding planes.

Having limited time everything was done high level but at the same time he offered lots of useful tips, tricks, and resources including an out of print book by Michael Bennett, “Discovering and Restoring Antique Furniture: A Practical Illustrated Guide for the Buyer and Restorer of Antique Furniture.” Note that the hardcover seems to sell for less than the paperback and contains the same copy. I’ve since read through about ½ and am really enjoying it.  It’s cut down that feeling of reinventing the wheel.

John went over some thoughts on wood selection and how he starts the process depending on whether the wood needs to be darkened or lightened to match back to the piece. In most cases it’s darkening and the example he worked was such. Unlike what you might think it doesn’t start with stain.  Think reverse engineering like I talked about earlier.  The process starts with aging and stressing the wood. John used a number of shop-made and found tools including a (1970’s Black and Decker drill) outfitted with a crazy looking paint stripper that looked like a softer nylon wheel. For sure, not OSHA approved! Other tools of interest were a vintage ivory burnisher, leather tools, and a WWI era chainmail pot scraper. His were the real deal but I did find they are still made today. In short the goal here is to add texture and also smooth out the wood. John worked in stages getting the wood texture correct before adding color. In fact color seemed to be the last thing he added. After tapping, burnishing with the BACK of sand paper, and other black magic, he got into the color. Bleaches and acids are used; author’s note: look alive and follow labels. I’ve worked with nitric acid and it’s nasty stuff.

John applies dyes and stains of all types. Like anyone he’s found colors and brands that work well and he applies them in small amounts along with organic material like rust and natural pigments. One tip I picked up was the use of a heat gun. I’ve used them in the past for all types of things but never thought about it when working with multiple finishes. As he worked through the process he passed examples around and held things up to see.  I did my best to take a few pictures.

By the end John had covered a multitude of things and given out some really great tips. He doesn’t currently have a website; he’s more of a phone person but does have email and you can contact me for his number.  I don’t want to post it but I’m happy to pass it out. He’s done work for some of the big guys like Jim Bode, Patrick Leach, and Leon Kashishian, whom I’ve recently come to know. He hails from the fine borough of Hatfield, PA and is a fellow collector of the fine early makers of Philadelphia saws.

next blog we head BACK to Lancaster in search of Fasnachts! and saws

Joe Federici
Saw Monger and anarchist at heart

over the hills and through the woods

LakNox_10I’ve only been a member of the Mid-West tool collectors association for about a year and in time, although I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many members, making a gathering has been elusive. So when I found that the Area P chapter of the MWTCA would be holding a single day “cabin fever tool show” in conjugation with Browns tool auction, I quickly put it on the calendar. I soon realized it was the same weekend as a group rental at Lake Nockamixon, but what’s life without a little conflict, and figured it would sort it’s self out with time.

As the date got closer, it was looking like many of saw guys planned to attend. Mike Stemple and Dave Jeffers were driving out from OH. Mike also said Carl Bilderback, who I’ve been wanting to meet, would be coming with a display as well as some saws to sell. In addition to the Mid-West guys, locally David Latouche and his wife made the trip from Jersey as well. David’s always a good sport in helping find good users. We collect from different ends of the saw spectrum and often divide and conquer, dragging one another across the room to point out a good find!

As luck, or maybe traditional for this gathering would have it, a storm blew in the day before angrily bringing with it a deep freeze, and threat of snow and black ice. The change in weather and heavy salt changed any thoughts on driving the van out Friday and sadly decided to leave the house around 3:45 am in my Saab, Black Swan— a swan song in many ways. Last year of 900, last year 2 door SE, last year of the black/black exterior/interior, and last designed Saab before GM took ownership. That last one is a real Saab story for those of us who love them!

Now I’m an early-to-rise type of guy but pre 5 am is just crazy. Yet here I type it. The temps that morning when I plopped into the Saab read 14º! Thank God for seat heaters as I think it took the old girl a good 50 miles to get up to temperature. Once moving, however, the drive was mostly uneventful thanks in large part to the crazy amounts of sodium chloride on the roads these days, 20 million plus tons.

I also noted, ironically, I’m waking up to Echoes with host John Diliberto, something 10 years ago I routinely heard before going to bed. Somehow this fact really highlighted the early hour and my age.

Seeing the sunrise lifted the funk and coldness and my planned arrival worked out well. I’m a latecomer to GPS and still have a hard time relying on it. That said, as I get older reading a map and driving with it on par with texting and the Garman app for the iphone gets two thumbs up from this user. As I pulled into the lot I had time to spare and topped off my coffee, said hi to a few friends while looking at a few tables in the parking lot. Yes even in this crazy cold, it was 15º when I pulled in, and two sellers had table in the parking lot. The difference being they used the honor system for payment rather then standing in the cold.

LakeNox_07The theme I’m finding for most club shows is as follows, everyone huddles around the doors waiting for the ok to enter. At some point you get the ok and in we rush. I think just about everyone would agree the dust settles quickly and I’m normally done buying in the first 30 min. Bottom line is the early bird gets the worm. Jim Bode beat me to a really nice no 12 but I did pick up a few nice backsaws and later model d8 with really clean plate. The selection here was a bit better then the previous weekend that’s for sure.

The sales behind me, I change gears and socialize. Mike had brought me two really nice early saws in need of handle repairs and I also got the chance to meet and talk with Carl Bilderback. You may have read about him on Chris Schwarz or Matt Cianci: the saw blog but if not, he’s also done a few video’s for popular woodworking, this one on ripping. Regardless, he and Ron Herman are both on the short list of saw guys I’d like to meet. Carl, over the years has also become the go to for pantherhead saws including the recently repaired one he had at the show that put his total around 15, I think he said. On a side note, I recently sold a few saw catalogues to Ron and included a note explaining I’d love to learn a little more about the black arts of saw smithing and called me and hopefully I can work something out for the summer! Check and Check.


The author and true saw advocate

Mike, being a good friend, made the introduction after we talked saws. We dove right into all things saws talking about the saws he had brought and some I had just picked up. Carl has a collection of Goodell-Pratt mitre boxes and was interested in seeing the rare No.1625 I was selling. He went on to say the 1625 is quite rare not just for it’s small size, but also it didn’t show up in catalogs. Carl had also brought his perfect example of the Atkins “Demonstrating Saw” for teaching; shows proper and improper filing in different tooth configurations. Carl is also a carpenter and built a rotating display case that was equally as impressive.


Image left: A rare Atkins with adjustable handle. Image right: Carl’s impressive near perfect presentation saw

Afterwards, I walked around wanting to talk with some of the dealers from the Jersey/Philiy area and see how the winters been treating them. I also unexpectedly ran into to Don Rosebrook back from his travels abroad. Don’s better known for levels but really does have an impressive saw collection. I look forward to seeing some it this spring. As I’m sure you can tell, I rather enjoy the small talk. It’s one of the reasons guys like Mike, David, and Carl, are all friends.

Case and point the scratch awe found in many combination saws. Carla had brought a No. 38 to sell and explained that after cutting apart a broken handle, he discovers how the scratch awe was held in place. A thin piece of scrap saw plate was cut about 3/16 and then bent and pushed into the hole. The ends dig in to the wooden handle just enough to prevent it from popping out and the tension agents in the awe prevents it from sliding out. Very cool, no?


By this time the preview for the Browns auction was getting underway. My inventory is still quite good so it was time for me to get back on the road and meet up with my friends at the cabin for a big potluck dinner and fireside moonie council. The drive heading back northeast through PA is a nice one. Although cold, it was clear and sunny. Once in Quakertown, I stopped at two roadside antique stores. Once there, wine was flowing, I caught up with friends and a great time was had by all sharing stories of what we’ve been up to since the fall as well as exchanging camping dates for the spring and summer. I hit the hay 22 hours after I woke, laughing in the thought, Echoes was on.

LakeNox_06Next blog: Nitric Acid—it’s not just for drugs bombs. John Porritt spoke about tool restoration at February’s CRAFT tool meet and it’s uses.

I’ve also gotten a few notes about sharpening turnaround. I’m happy to report they are still running two weeks or less so for those in the need. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Joe Federici
Saw Monger

Good pie and cheap gas

VAPA_01Enticed by the thought of possibly owning a panther head saw, I decided to take a chance, eat a workday, and make the trip to the family owned and operated Horst auction facility in the heart of Amish country. As it turned out so did one of the bigger resellers of vintage tools. Oh well. A good friend and fellow veeduber and now blogger Malissa Weikel made the trip which made for some fun conversation and catching up, with the vans mostly off the road to save them from all the salt used on roads in the northeast.

VAPA_02Unlike most of the auctions I attend, this one was primarily early American arts and crafts, furniture and décor, something not in my wheelhouse. But as it turned out, being from the area Malissa had a good working knowledge that we tested while previewing. Also not knowing the place I got there a little early to register and check things out. The selection of tools wasn’t much but what was there was nice and after previewing we grabbed some homemade soup and pie.

VAPA_03At some point the topic changed to record keeping as Malissa handles the books for a family run furniture/design company The Cutting Edge, as well as her brother’s insurance company. Sitting behind us, Doug Robinson owner of As Good As Old overheard us (those that know me know I’m anything but soft spoken!) and offered solutions he’s found. Doug, Malissa, and I then talked for a bit about that, tools in general, and of course saws!

VAPA_04With the time fast approaching my hopes of owning a panther head saw were dashed as Jim Bode walked in. For those of us who know Jim, he’s a really nice guy but business is just that and he deals in large volume; within 3 bids the price was above my limit. There were a few other saws on the docket so I figured I’d see how things went; however Jim was on a roll and it was one of those days I left empty handed. Regardless, I made a few friends and learned a few things including what Chow Chow is.

From the Amish countryside of PA, my next stop was the outskirts of Richmond, VA to a friend and fellow saw lover Mark Stansbury. Now for those of you who live in this part of the country, you know running the gauntlet between the inner harbor of Baltimore to Washington, DC is a textbook example of road rage. In hindsight I hit 4 fender benders on 95 in a 10-mile stretch. My leaving around 4pm on Friday didn’t help much but I’ll spare you the blow by blow.

Once there, I stopped for gas, doubled check my directions, and was surprised by the cheap price of $3.13; nice!

VAPA_05I don’t remember when I first emailed with Mark but I’m sure it had to do with Foley equipment. I consider myself to have a better than average working knowledge of the retoothers they made but when it comes to the rest of the line up and the filers in particular, Mark’s your man. In addition he updates a blog Foley Filer. Any of us who own Foley equipment know that they breed like rabbits, and one of the reasons I was heading to his house. I’ve had a Model 61 filer, a late model power setting, and 30/31 retoother sitting in my back shed for the better part of a year while I found homes for them.

PAVA_06Once settled in Mark gave me a quick tour of the shop. His shop space like mine is quite small and Mark built the above ground non-poured foundation to simplify the permit process. Considering its size it’s really quite an impressive loft space with running water! Currently the loft is used for storage of his collection of mostly US made saws. By this time it was getting late so we tabled the saw talk till the AM along with unloading the filer.

The show was a bit later than normal with no tailgating and was billed as “The Richmond Antiques Spectacular.” The tool sale was in conjunction with the local tool club Richmond Antique Tool Society or RATS for short.

So not needing to rush we unloaded the Foley. If you’ve not had the pleasure of carrying a Foley filer, I’ll just say that keeping it to a minimum distance is a real priority. Mark’s garage wasn’t far from the driveway and after manhandling it into place I caught my breath. Looking around I’d say his garage houses the largest collection of Foley equipment I’ve yet to see. I was a little awestruck to say the least. With labor done we finished up the tour from the night before; I wanted to see a few things in the daylight. All I can say is everywhere we went Mark’s got saws. Plus they are really well organized (note to self) and tucked away; needless to say it’s a good size collection and I couldn’t talk him out of a single saw! Hell, I even got some out of Mike Stemple and I thought that was the litmus test for saw negotiation.

I did end up getting a replacement die and hammer for my retoother and although they aren’t a high wear item they do get worn down over time; not having access to a surface mill it’s nice to have a backup.

VAPA_06By this time it was getting close to go time and I followed Mark. We grabbed a quick bite and continued onto the antique and tool sale just a few minutes before the doors opened. I was heading back afterwards so I walked the room with purpose looking for saws of interest. Mike introduced me to a couple of the RATS members, Rick Long president and Joe Fisher.  I found 2 nice D-8 rips and Mark got 2 nice examples of “new” 16.

The last item to cross off the list was the hand over of my 30/31 filer to Dana Horton. Dana had picked up a Model 30 retoother that’s pre-electric motor and had emailed to ask a few questions about its use. I offered my 30/31 as the parts don’t swap out with the later models and for occasional use the 30/31 has some advantages; although hand operating the flywheel isn’t one of them, it’s nice to have your hands free to steady the carrier.  While it’s running, vibration can really be the Achilles heel of the retoother. The carrier uses wing nuts and vibration tends to loosen them. If that happens mid-toothing, well let’s just say hopefully it’s NOT a customer’s saw.  Dana however has the right attitude and understands the tradeoffs and won’t be running a priceless, one of a kind saw through it.  Having limited time we unloaded the toother, Mark and I ogled the Emmert’s vise he’d brought to sell and decided we’d all need to continue this another time. Hopefully I can work something out to visit Dana in the spring.

The return trip can be summed up in one word, traffic; but once past the inner harbor it was smooth sailing and I unloaded my few saws and met up with a friend for dinner.

VAPA_07Sunday I should have spent in the shop catching up on some handle repairs but scored free tickets to the auto show in Philadelphia. The Convention Center is located across from the Reading Terminal Market and for those of you with visits to the Keystone state, aka the “city of brotherly love”, aka “you’ve got a friend”, should for sure grab lunch there. It’s as Philly as the Disston Keystone Saw Works. It first opened its doors in 1872 and still houses over a hundred merchants ranging from live poultry to fine dining and just about everything in between. I’m a sucker for the pulled pork with broccoli rabe and a long hot from DiNic’s, hands down one of the best in the world, but I digress.

Finished with lunch we made the trip to the Convention Center.  I’m feeling the age of the Saab with over 190K on it but as of yet I really haven’t found a suitable utilitarian replacement. I’m sure like a lot of woodworkers I don’t own a truck; most of my cars have been hatchbacks that have the ability to have seats that lay flat and pull double duty hauling stuff. I also don’t tend to like larger gas guzzling cars. My 1998 4 cylinder still gets around 30 mpg on the highway.

VAPA_08For a few years, about the only car of interest to me was the VW SportWagen that’s now sold with both TDI and petrol engine. This year I was also interested in the Ford redesigned Escape. My friends are used to this but my test for most cars is to bypass the front seats, pop the truck, lay down the seats, then jump inside and lay on my back – your basic mattress test for car. Though the Escape passed well, the only real detraction was I don’t tend to buy new and it’s not available in a stick! Crazy, no? The flat back is one regret I have with the new generation 900 over the early years. They added a hump making it hard to sleep in. Mind you I’ve done it, but these days I normally take the van. Most people recommend the Subaru wagon as a great choice but after 2010 they gained a lot of weight, lost much of its utilitarian ways in favor of being a people hauler and just get bad gas mileage in my opinion. The last stop was to see the selection of early European rally cars from the Simeone Museum, also worth the trip if you’re in the area.

So that about wraps things up for the week. The next adventure was to the M-WTCA cabin fever show held in York, PA.

Joe Federici
Saw Monger and pork sandwich aficionado!