Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sensitivity in Historic Preservation

There was a time in our past when one could walk down any street and be surrounded by harmonious buildings.

Jonathan Hale, The Old Way of Seeing, 1994

Rotted window sill on the Nederland Mining Museum, Nederland, Colorado

Sensitive is an adjective that get's used a lot in the world of historic preservation. When I first started out doing historic preservation carpentry I would ask those carpenters who used the adjective what its definition was to them. I heard "just take care of the building", "don't make it look new, keep it crooked", and "use the proper techniques". Pretty vague definitions. Then I saw these "experts" work on old buildings, most were as "sensitive" as a bull is in a china shop. I didn't see carpenters at work on these jobs, I saw hacks from a construction site using 16d coated sinkers instead of beautifully tapered square nails; the use of pneumatic trim guns on historic trim; and many times structural features were changed because, and I quote, "they should have done it this way, their way was wrong". This from people who were working for a national agency that is charged with preserving historic structures and buildings.

I learned to keep my head down and go about my work, there was no point in trying to talk about the philosophical aspects of historic preservation with these guys, all they wanted was a paycheck. In my spare time I read (and still read!) books written before the turn of the 20th century on building construction and trim work; found notes from talks with my father and uncles about how they did framing and trim work in the 1940's and 1950's; sharpened my handsaws, axes and adzes; and kept my eyes open when I worked in old buildings for construction details and tool marks.

Newspaper from May 13, 1902, found on the back side of exterior siding board, at the cabin at Rocky Mountain Mammoth Mine, Magnolia Mining District, Colorado

The American English Dictionary defines sensitive as "quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences" and sensitivity as "the quality or condition of being sensitive". I take this to mean that a person can "read" or "be in tune with" another living being. Think about it, you can be sensitive to your wife, your kids, your horse, your dog. Sure you can be "sensitive" to how an old house reacts to changes in weather, a creak here, a crack there, but that first definition really applies only to living, animate beings. Look it up and read the other definitions of sensitive, they don't apply to preservation work on a building or structure.

We should use the words tactful, careful, thoughtful, subtle, sympathetic, compassionate, understanding, intuitive, responsive and insightful when it comes to historic preservation. If we do work by those words, then before you start work on an old building you should have a knowledge of the history of American architecture; a vast knowledge of historic framing techniques, the use of hand tools and current acceptable historic preservation practices. You should know how and where that building and those who built it and lived in it fit into the history of the community.

And, most importantly, what makes a good historic preservation carpenter is that that person takes pride in what they do and how they do it. You have got to take pride in the work you do, that should be more important than the paycheck you take home at the end of the month.

Let us banish the word "sensitive" from historic preservation and instead use "understanding, sympathetic, compassionate and insightful". I know if we all practice and use those four words we can save more than our heritage, we can help the world and everyone in it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

My Cool New Fancy Hammered Brass Glue Pot!

Glue is, briefly, the gelatinous extract of bones, hides, and horns of animals and fish.

George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902

The gluepot that I ordered from MusiCaravan arrived today! Wahoo!

What a sweet looking pot! Can't wait to make some glue in it!

I also bought The Gluepot Warmer so I can keep the glue warm for an extended period of time, such as when I glue the tentellones to the top and sides of a guitar.

Both items are well made and the brochure that comes with the pot says that the pot will last several life times if it is well cared for! I believe that statement.

A shot of Julia's guitar when I was gluing on the kerfing for the back. The tentellones for the top and sides I glue in one-by-one with just my fingers, imagine that in this day and age!

Do check out MusiCaravan's site and also take a look at Toolemera Press website and the PDF version of the little book, Doing the Gluing, a nice treatise on using hide glue.

Rocky Mountain Mammoth Mine, Boulder County, Colorado--Restoration Work on the Cabin, Part 2

Domestic buildings are of two principal sorts: folk houses and styled houses. Folk houses are those designed without a conscious attempt to mimic current fashion. Many are built by their occupants or by non-professional builders, and all are relatively simple houses meant to provide basic shelter, with little concern for presenting a stylish face to the world.

Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses, 1984

On Friday afternoon, August 2, 2013, I was able to go home that night knowing that I could bar the door and windows on the addition of the cabin at the Rocky Mountain Mammoth Mine site. Brian and I met the goal I had set, that all the structural and siding repair work was to be done by the end of day, August 2. The sill timbers are in place, the floor is down and repaired, the shear and siding is back up and repaired and the "back door" is fixed and swinging on its hinges. Boy, was that a good feeling. All that is left to do on this addition is to fix the roof, but that will be done when we fix the entire roof.

Tomorrow, August 6, we will start work on the original 1898 cabin.

The floor joists in bad shape...

The flooring down over new floor joists and sill timbers. Notice the strips of coffee can metal that I put down over gaps in the flooring, just like the original!

The shelving before I took it down to fix the floor...

The shelving after I put it back up after fixing the floor.

The coal burner in place over original rotted flooring and floor joists...

The coal burner back in place.

I hope that it all looks that same as it did when I first got into the work, just is I didn't put down any rotten wood!

The west elevation of the cabin, all nice and tidy.

The Best Workshop in the World!

The best workshop in the world is the one that you are working in! I know that there are people who complain about their work space - it is ...