WoodCentral Special Guest Chat


December 5, 2004

Ellis Welcome, everyone, to our special guest chat tonight, with Ron Schleining, author of the recent book, "The Workbench." Ron has written three books and numerous articles for Fine Woodworking. We are privileged to have him here with us tonight. Welcome, Ron!
Carl_B. Evening Lon
Lon Schleining Hi Carl
Bater Hello everyone!
Terre_Hooks Lon, I've had that workbench you built in last year's FWW Tools and Shops in my "want to do list".....would you still build it just like you did?
Lon Schleining It's great fun to chat with other sawdust addicts.
ernie_miller Thanks for stopping. What is you favorite for cherry? I'm building a blanket chest and it is time for a finish
Lon Schleining I wouldn't change the basic design, but there are always new gizmos to add, Terre
Ellis Tell us how you came up with the design you did, Lon.
Lon Schleining I'm a big fan of varnish rubbed on. It's simple, doesn't need a dust free environment and it's so easy even I can do it.
Terre_Hooks I like the design, it is very stable and simple.
JohnV do you use varnish undiluted?
Lon Schleining I wanted a bench with a classic look, but all the modern hardware available these days
Lon Schleining I wrote an article on the finish I use for FWW. Anyone remember the issue #?
Terre_Hooks Have you done any power tool testing lately, Lon?
JohnP What was the title of the article?
Terre_Hooks Was the finish article not in the 2003 Tools and Shops?
Lon Schleining It's #154 Feb, 2002
JohnV I'll look it up
Ellis So what are you working on these days, Ron?
Lon Schleining I've done a LOT of tool review articles. I'm taking a breather from that job for a while.
Lon Schleining In real life I build wooden staircases. I'm working on a Jatoba job right now, with a circular stair next.
Ellis When you do reviews, is it just you or a panel of experts?
Lon Schleining FWW typically farms out tool reviews to one of their regular authors.
Ellis And, regarding stairs, are these built to fit particular interiors?
Ellis Lon, are there pictures of any of your staircases online?
Lon Schleining It's usually a colaboration between the owners, designers, decorators, and sometimes the Feng Shui expert ...and me.
Ellis So you had a lot of the design input?
Ellis And are you still full time in the architectural woodworking business?
Lon Schleining The design of a staircase has to fit the style of the home of course, but around here building codes drive a lot of the considerations. I do what I have to do first, then try to do what the client wants. I wind up designing the end product after a lot of give and take.
Lon Schleining Yes, Ellis, thats what I do full time.
Ellis You always propose the finish materials, and often samples, too, right?
Lon Schleining I start with full scale drawings, often build prototypes, sometimes full size models.
Ellis Do you find that customer relations is a key element?
Terre_Hooks how do you (or the project) afford to do full scale models?
Lon Schleining As for materials, that's often a given. If they ask, I give my input, but typically I'm matching what else is in the home.
Lon Schleining My relations with the client drives EVERYTHING I do. As for cost, I figure it into the job.
Ellis Do you get most of your work through designers?
Terre_Hooks Lon, do you think the new tools, jigs and accessories that are being sold today help productivity?
Lon Schleining About the only time I work by the hour is with design and development work. I take up where the designers stop. That is to say I try to develop their ideas into buildable designs.
Ellis Right. They give you vague parameters and you fill in the blanks. :-)
Lon Schleining Ellis, my work comes from such a variety of sources, I can't single out designers. I have worked with a lot of them over the years though.
Ellis This all begs the question of how you got into this business in the first place.
Terre_Hooks Ellis, all you need to do to develop a good rep for working on houses is show up everyday!!!
Ellis And bring the donuts. Believe me I know.
Lon Schleining I try to keep up with all the new gizmos as they come out, but really, for a small shop, there's no substitute for working your fanny off, Terre
Terre_Hooks I have a lot to work off, Lon.
Lon Schleining Terre, there's a lot of truth to what you say. Contractors don't have the best reputation for reliability. I try to be respectful, punctual, and take my shoes off.
Carl_B. Yep you do Terre.
Lon Schleining A friend was building custom cabinets and had a client who wanted a wooden staircase. I’d just bought a house I couldn’t afford and wasn’t about to turn work away. That was 1978.
TonyReynolds OJT
Ellis Eerie parallels here, Lon. Carry on.
Lon Schleining There was a recession here in Southern CA in the late 1980s. Thats when I began to write and teach.
Terre_Hooks I knew that would wake you up Carl
Lon Schleining When you're used to being self-employeed, you get used to being nimble... or you don't survive.
Ellis Lon, what prompted the Workbench Book?
Ellis I used to liken each job to an R&D project with only one chance to be right. :-)
Lon Schleining I'd finished Treasure Chests for long enough to have given the old brain a rest, and got a call from Helen Albert at Taunton.
Lon Schleining Ellis, that's it exactly.
Terre_Hooks Lon, tell us that screwing up is normal.
Ellis I confess they haven't sent me a copy yet, so I can't speak from experience, but from Barb's review, it seems that you have written a soon-to-be classic.
Lon Schleining Taunton wanted to do a new book on benches. They liked my proposal enough to go ahead.
TonyReynolds It's how gracefully you hide it that matters
Ellis You can never have too many benches. :-)
Terre_Hooks Ok, Tony, How do you hide 5 mortises you didn't mean to cut in 8 chair legs??
JohnV just need a bigger workshop
TonyReynolds lol
Lon Schleining Terre, I NEVER make mistakes myself, so I wouldn't know..... really when I do, I try to keep it private and fix it before anyone finds out. And that's the truth.
Ellis Are you working on a new book at the moment, Lon?
Terre_Hooks I kinda got in the "work that fanny off " rythym with the FMT
Ellis Krenov used to say it was like a cat covering its tracks with litter....
Norman Mistakes are really just "opportunities"
TonyReynolds Lon, what's the best advice you could give a small one man shop just starting out besides "Don't do it." :-)
Lon Schleining I couldn't agree more with all the above. I think pros are pros because of their ability to not only fix but embrace mistakes. Maloof has a great line about that.
Ellis What is Sam's line?
Lon Schleining Norman, that's EXACTLY how Maloof sees it.
Ellis Sure, an opportunity to make a detail out of something.
Lon Schleining It's not a single line, it's just a story about making a band saw cut too deep on a crest rail, then simply cutting the rest of them to match. And he's been doing them with that shape ever since.
Terre_Hooks Well, I didn't think the client would like maple plugs in those mortises, so I made new legs.
Lon Schleining I think making a name for yourself is the fastest way for a one-man shop to become profitable.
Ellis Sounds like the right move, Terre.
Ellis Absolutely agree, Lon.
Terre_Hooks Yep, word of mouth is the best advertising there is.
Lon Schleining I find it's almost always easier and quicker to start over with a new piece than to try to fix your 'pattern' piece.
Ellis That's why I asked about designer contacts, Lon. I used to get a lot of work from a small group of designers and architects.
Ellis ...which is one of the ways to get into commissioned work, vs. speculative furniture.
Lon Schleining Yes, depending on the business arrangement, it can certainly work well to have contacts. Designers, good ones, will often make our job easier.
Ellis Is it mostly stairs that you're doing nowadays, Lon?
Terre_Hooks Tony, I have talked to a couple of locally owned stores in town and both are willing to do consignment for me. One wants 10% and the other 25%. Both have the potential for the same clientele.
Lon Schleining I think there's no quicker way to get noticed than to get published. There's a great gallery section in nearly every magazine. Build something you really like and show it off.
Ellis Is that the way you got into this business?
Lon Schleining Terre, you shouldn't care (in my opinion) how much anyone marks up your work. The more the better. As long as you net what you want, it's a win win.
crackerjack Lon,do you have any pictures of staircases you built online?
Terre_Hooks I agree, Lon.
Ellis I like that, Lon.
Ellis How do you stage these staircases in your shop?
TonyReynolds As long as they can move it
Lon Schleining I have to laugh thinking about your question, crackerjack. My web site mentions nothing of stairs. I've thought about posting some photos, but havent' as yet.
Ellis I know how that goes.
Terre_Hooks What do you think about the Saw Stop, Lon?
crackerjack I like building stairways. I'd love to see some of yours.
Lon Schleining I have 1700 square feet with 22 foot ceilings, so I have lots of room to build bending jigs. I try to do all the milling and pre-assembly in the shop. It minimizes the amount of time I have to spend on job sites.
Ellis I assume you do a lot of laminated stringers. Do you stud temporary walls to clamp stringers to?
Lon Schleining Sometimes, with a circular, I do the bending on site. Other times, I build a circular stud wall in the shop. It partly depends on how cramped the area is in the home.
Ellis What is your standard method of stablilizing the treads and risers? Do you use wedges?
Lon Schleining I use bent lamination for most of the stringer and handrail work, some steaming and mill the rest out of solid material.
Lon Schleining Personally, I'm not a big wedge fan. Folks in the West havent' build stairs like that for decades, although I know it's still popular in the NE. I'm an adhesives guy.
Ellis Yeah, I'm not too up on the current theory. How do you use adhesives?
Lon Schleining If you need some exercise, just try pulling up some hardwood flooring that's been glued with something like the adhesive Bruce makes. It's polyurethane mastic. You have to just about peel off the top layer of concrete to get the stuff loose.
Ellis :-)
Ellis I don't need that much exercise. :-)
Lon Schleining In the old days, I used Liquid Nails in a caulking tube. Now I use Franklin's poly. It'll stick just about anything to just about anything else.
Ellis What about other woodworking commissions? Is all your work architectural?
Lon Schleining I've had some really weird commissions, actually. Not the usual dining room set.
BubbaBob Hi folks...in fer a shot before bed.
Lon Schleining I do quite a bit of metal and glass work, using stainless, powdercoating, sometimes bent glass. When something is about to fall through a crack between two trades, it tends to wind up in my lap.
Lon Schleining Hi Bubba
Ellis Mixed media.
Ellis Hi BB
Lon Schleining I've done my share of boat work also. Lots of my clients have boats.
William_OTC Good evening. Sorry I'm late. Just got off the phone with my agent in C'ville.
Ellis Likely story. :-)
Lon Schleining Hi William
Ellis William is our resident hand tool maven, Lon.
Lon Schleining For example, I just bid a job to replace a cracked windshield in a clients 97 foot power boat.
Ellis William, you missed a good conversation about Lon's custom architectural and staircase business, and the other unexpected jobs that he has done.
William_OTC I'm a bit of a Jefferson fan. After reading your article on the Writing Desk, I went to DC to study the original. Regrettably it was well protected, and I could not touch it.
Ellis Lon, boat work is big bucks.
Lon Schleining I like to think that there's nothing I couldn't figure out eventually. I like the variety.
William_OTC I also seem to do a lot of "unexpected" jobs. Sorry I missed it.
Ellis It will be in the log tomorrow.
Ellis How did you figure out the Jefferson desk?
Lon Schleining Yes, William, it's one of the very top tier artifacts in the entire Smithsonian collection.
William_OTC I won't miss reading the log.
Lon Schleining Like William and a lot of other folks, I was fascinated with it and its connection to Jefferson and the Declaration.
Lon Schleining I studied it for a LONG time, took photos, made sketches, and simply figured it out from there. A book gave me the rough dimensions and I went from there.
Terre_Hooks Well,folks, I have to go. Gotta be at the courthouse early tomorrow. I've enjoyed it. Appreciate the time, Lon and Ellis. (jury duty, you Hacks!)
Ellis What's on the horizon, workwise and bookwise, Lon...?
Ellis Bye, Terre. Have fun.
Lon Schleining I didn't get to measure the original until after I'd built the one for the article in FWW.
Lon Schleining Night Terre
William_OTC I understand your concern, in your truly incredible reproduction, with somehow preventing the cupping that caused so much damage, repeatedly, in the original.
Lon Schleining Yes, as you see with the original, it's cupped badly. (Darned wood anyway.)
Ellis Darned construction.
Lon Schleining Yup. Actually it's amazing the original is as flat as it is.
Lon Schleining the panels are about 3/8" x 10" x 14"
Ellis Would anyone like to pose a question to our guest? On anything....
Lon Schleining It's pretty amazing it's held together so well, actually, given that Jefferson used it every day for 50 years.
Lon Schleining Someone asked about the Saw Stop. Pretty amazing gizmo
Ellis Did you see it at IWF?
Lon Schleining It was the talk of the Atlanta show when it first came out
Lon Schleining Kelly reviewed it for FWW last issue
Jim_Shaver Hi Lonnie, glad you dropped in on our site, I enjoy reading your articles
Lon Schleining Yes I did see it. Amazing demo
Bater My neighbor had two workbenches with Scandinavian shoulder vises, working at those benches, I found them indispensible. What are your thoughts, Lon!
Lon Schleining Thanks, Jim
William_OTC My questions are leading somewhere important. In building a reproduction, why not use quartersawn mahogany? That should give you the stability without the need to laminate veneer over plywood, shouldn't it?
Lon Schleining I'm not personally as big a fan of shoulder vises as someone like Frank Klausz, especially with the advent of the twin screw end vise. A lot depends on the sort of work you do and what sort of bench you learned your trade on.
Jim_Shaver Hi Lonnie, I saw your bench book on the shelf at Le Valley on Friday, took a quick flip through it, it looked great. I built a shop version of the Shaker bench that is in your book and used Howard Card's screws, like Mike Dunbar did, only a year earlier. Have you seen these wood screws, what did you think of them?
Lon Schleining Good question, William and you're correct, of course. That should minimize the movement.
Jim_Shaver I used them to make a leg vise and a tail vise, my bench is in Shop Shots, just curious how many benches you have seen like that?
Lon Schleining For what it's worth, Wiliam, the Desk I built for the Smithsonian has solid panels, real live Cuban mahogany, and so far they're still flat.
William_OTC Of course, the figure shown on the writing surfaces would have a different character. Ah! I did not realize that you had built another one.
Lon Schleining Howard's screws are absolutely works of art. I have one right here on my desk. Two actually.
Ellis Small world.
Jim_Shaver Wonderful, I bought four extras, just in case. Howard is very kind, but all business
Lon Schleining Jim, leg vises are pretty rare these days. Do you like it?
Jim_Shaver I really do,
Jim_Shaver I use it quite often when working a board across the face of my bench
Jim_Shaver as well, I like it open on both sides at the end of the bench
Lon Schleining Yup, don't bother asking Howard if it's ok to come visit.
Jim_Shaver BEEN THERE! LOL!!
Jim_Shaver he met a friend of mine at a local mall with some screws
Jim_Shaver said he could not come to the house
Jim_Shaver and my friend had driven 5 hours to see him
Lon Schleining I innocently told Howard it would be really cool to send the photographer for the book out to his place for a shot or two. Howard about took a shot or two at me for even suggesting such a thing.
Ellis Funny! What good experiences...
Ellis Where is Howard?
Jim_Shaver HA! Nice man on the phone though, sent me a thank you note for refering four other sales his way
Jim_Shaver dWit NY
Lon Schleining He has some sort of process he wants to keep to himself. I can see why. His work is amazing.
Ellis And, where can people buy the apparatus?
Lon Schleining New York, someplace.
Jim_Shaver You need to call him
Ellis I was afraid of that.
Jim_Shaver I have his number near by, but it's mentioned in Mike bench article in FWW
Jim_Shaver His wife is great on the phone as well,
Ellis Okay, I'll put it on the list.
Lon Schleining He's awfully nice on the phone. I don't mean to imply otherwise, just a very private man.
JohnP I've really enjoyed listening to all the conversations, but must run. Goodnight, and thanks Lon
Lon Schleining Night John
Jim_Shaver He's a retired Cornel English profesor, I think. Anyway he's careful about his work, and he took my Canadian cheque no problem.
Lon Schleining I think his prices are very low considering.
Jim_Shaver I actually received my wood screws in the mail before I had mailed my payment
Jim_Shaver Really, that is why I bought four extras, who knows when they may come in handy down the road
Lon Schleining I didn't know that. Interesting. He seems like an engineer, all right, very meticulous
Ellis We should try to help him out.
RayT How about some detailed pic's being posted.
Lon Schleining I agree, Ellis.
Ellis Lon, we have really enjoyed having you here.
Jim_Shaver I have been a huge fan of his, I like his work and his personality, his concept of supporting tradional wood screws leaves him out there as a rare source,
Jim_Shaver he just got email awhile ago I think, but my emails bounce from his address now for some reason
Lon Schleining I've enjoyed the chat a great deal. Thanks for inviting me, Ellis. Great questions and discussing from everyone.
Jim_Shaver I have some pictures if you email me Ray, or any one
RayT Thanks, Jim I will
Ellis It was a lot of fun. We'll log this one for posterity.
Jim_Shaver Glad I made it in before you left Lonnie
RayT Thanks Lon and Ellis, another great evening.
crackerjack Thanks for visiting Lon. I enjoyed listening.
Lon Schleining Thanks again, Ellis. So long everyone.
Jim_Shaver Thanks Ellis, wonderful to read this all
Neal Thanks Lon
Ellis We'll see you again soon, everyone. Meanwhile thanks all for coming to the chat tonight.