Archive for July, 2009

Resource-poor assembly

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

As promised, a brief discussion of the stain I’m using on the border pieces for the lacewood desk surface.

The Minwax “Puritan Pine” stain turned out to be really light.  I’m told that antique Colonial furniture was often painted bright colors, such as literal blood red, so I’m not sure of the whole “Puritan” motif here, anyway.  I thought it might make a good base, though.  I wanted something lighter than the show-off lacewood, but with enough red to pick out the cherry on the lacewood.  Below are the two blends I ended up using:


The background is plain pine plywood.  The top strip of stained pine is one of the desktop borders.  It is perhaps 15:1 Puritan Pine to Red Oak stain.  The lower piece of pine is a 10:1 or therebouts mix.  I like the lower color better, and am using it for the rest of the pine trim on the desk.  The thing is, you have to stain everything you want to be the same color at the same time, since you are unlikely to exactly recreate the color the second time without a pipette or similar sciencey glassware.

Assembly is becoming an issue.  Specifically, my paucity of clamps is becoming an issue.  Not having any pipe clamps, how am I to keep the (slightly warped) borders tight to the desktop while gluing?  With cargo tie-downs, previously purchased for a physics-defying furniture move.


Before anyone says anything, I know that the hooks should against the back, non-display face of the wood.  Unfortunately, I remembered this after deploying the glue.  We shall chalk this up to further valuable learning experience and move on, again. I did remember to put shims between the straps and the pine to spread the force and avoid marring.

The “feet” of the desk legs are currently drying as well.  I have no bar clamps, and my C-clamps are enormous rusty things normally used for brake caliper work.  In the event, my steel paint storage box is currently doing duty as a “heavy thing”, replacing my previous expedient of copies of The Blue and the Gray and The Penguin Book of Victorian Villanies, which proved to be insufficiently, er, weighty.

They say you can’t have enough bar clamps, and I believe them.  They’re on the (long) list.

Unnoticed Infrastructure 2

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I posted an article about unnoticed bits of old infrastructure.

Today, one of my co-workers removed what appeared to be a non-fuctional old thermostat from the wall of our office while we were cleaning up.  He was rewarded with a neverending blast of (very musty) compressed air, shrieking through the small hole in the wall that the “thermostat” previously covered.  Fortunately, the device could be replaced with little trouble, and resealed the hole.  I have little idea what the device did.  It looked like a metal strip thermostat, but I’ve never heard of a pneumatic circuit arrangement like this.

I was reminded of how this sort of thing can be important.  If people have to deal with an unfamiliar device in a hurry, bad results can, well, result.  The worst building fire in the U.S. was the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago.  A combination of factors combined to cause the loss of over 600 lives, but one was the use of “bascule” locks on some theater exit doors.  These locks were a European type that were used very little in the U.S., and so few people knew how to open them.  The results of a crowd trying to get through a nearly unopenable door were unfortunate, to say the least.  As it happened, a man named Frank Houseman had a bascule lock on his icebox at home, and so managed to open one of the exit doors, allowing numerous people to escape.  The installation of “panic bars” on doors in U.S. public buildings is partially a result of this disaster.

(It is also worth noting that a passerby named Peter Quinn opened another door from the outside with tools he had in his pockets, probably primarily a screwdriver, allowing another 100 people to get out.  Always carry a pocket knife if you can.)

I’m also told that knowing where door wedges are is useful in case of a “rogue shooter” scenario.

Apologies for the grim post.  The shadow of the book The Pessimist’s Guide to History stretches long.  To this day I am uncomfortable above the 3rd floor in wooden buildings.  I’ll try for something lighter next post.

Unnoticed Infrastructure

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Being a bit of a (an?) historian, I am fascinated by the little bits of architectural errata that somehow escape updating as a given building is renovated.


There are a few interesting things here.

1)  The action on it is a little confusing: it is currently off.

2)  It is a design I have never seen before, and I’m surprised at it.  This switch is outside, and yet has a hole on the top for the sliding switch.  I have to wonder about water coming in along the shaft.

3)  The switch looks to long predate the patio it is attached to.  The plaque in the background notes that the garden was redone in 1976, which is presumably the date of the patio’s construction.  The switch is probably from the 20s, when the building was initially built.  Presumably an electrician grabbed the box from the spares pile in the basement.

I never saw it until yesterday.  I’ve lived in an apartment overlooking this patio for 3 years and never knew how to turn on the lights out there.

Similarly, but better hidden:


This is in a back stair at work that nobody uses.  What is it?  Let’s open it up:


Well, first off, it’s mislabeled.  Room 219 is way down the hall.  The lever bar in the box swings out from the bottom, and is split horizontally down half the length.   Up near the top of the slit is a tab.

The idea was to keep your security guards on their rounds.  The guards would carry a clock that accepted these stationary “keys” which, when pushed into the clock, would force the clock to punch the time and station number onto a paper or cardboard record.  The reason that these station boxes are still in the building is partially due to the fact that they are in out-of-the-way places.


This one is in a roof service stair.

I assume that most of them have been removed.  Still, there are innumerable little artifacts of history layered throughout our lives.  I walked by this one a dozen times before seeing it, and it’s in a main hallway.


Take a look around your environment as if it were the first time you were present.  People have been there before you.