Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Cheese Press Cometh

Two Fridays ago, I came across this ancient cheese press at the Treasure Hut, the antique and collectibles store at the corner of Route 34 and Cedric. Run by Al and Joan for a good many years, the Treasure Hut is a something of a long standing Derby CT landmark.
This press is beautifully made, with a lot of clean mortise-and-tenon joinery, and just a few metal fasteners. It's in great shape and has a fine finish. The only thing missing is the actual mold used to hold and separate the whey. I am not exactly sure what I am going to do with it; I suppose it will just stay in the upstairs work room for now, and ultimately find a place in the future restored kitchen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kale and Thoughts on the Little Ice Age

It seems like we've had our first real taste of winter these past five days; unseasonably cold and blustery, with mid-day temperatures never above 40 degrees and plumeting down into the mid-twenties at night. The pansies and mums I have in two hanging baskets out front nearly bought it the other day when I'd left them outside until merely an hour after sunset. Fortunately, the protection of a relatively warmer night in the basement seemed to revive them (at least somewhat).

Kale thriving in mostly sub-freezing weather

By comparison, the dwarf kale I had planted out back is not only surviving, but apparently thriving, in this sudden cold. The plants are noticeably larger than they were just a few weeks ago. This is truly a cold weather loving plant. But none the less, this winter is predicted to be a severe one, and as soon as there is a slight rise in temperature, I'll properly protect them with a cover of mulch.

All the upstairs rooms of the Hawkins House, except for the hall chamber, lack hot-air registers. In these conditions, they take a long time to warm up, as hot air slowly circulates out from the hall chamber, as well as upwards from the first floor. These unheated rooms always remain on the cool side, and begin to chill rapidly as soon as the furnace shuts off. This is something I'll need to address in my plans to improve the heating system next year.

However, it got me thinking about what life in the house was like in the distant past.

Winters in colonial New England were generally far more severe than what we've experienced in modern times. In fact, many climatologists agree that there was a general dip in temperatures in Europe and North America, from around the mid-seventeenth century until the late nineteenth century, a period sometimes referred to as The Little Ice Age.

My house's early occupants had endured far more severe and prolonged cold than I will perhaps ever experience in my life time. It's hard to imagine what it was like trying to stay warm on those frigid winter nights, the entire family huddled together in the kitchen or great room, directly in front of the largest fireplace in the house. Some one had to ensure that the fire remained stoked throughout the night, and no one dared venture away from the flames and into the outer rooms.

[ This house is frozen brittle, all except this room you sit in. - Robert Frost, "Snow" ]

So why am I complaining about a mere 11 degrees below average, over just a few days in November?

The BRT on Christmas Eve, about one month after this posting, with an interesting wind-blown slab on its roof.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Writing Table for the Spinning Room

Last weekend, I finally got around to assembling a writing table I had purchased a few weeks earlier from Home Decorators Collection. They call it a multi-use writing table. It's part of my ongoing effort to set an informal study up in the old spinning room. In fact, I've decided to make all three back rooms of the second floor into special-purpose work rooms: The southeast bed chamber as a computer room, the spinning room as a cozy refuge for reading and writing, and the northeast bed chamber as a small workshop for second-floor restoration and preservation work. Longer term, the northeast chamber eventually might be fashioned into a second floor bath, but there are far more pressing things to accomplish right now; hence, the second floor workshop.

All the wooden parts comprising the writing table; assembled trestle and drawers

When it comes to furniture for the house, colonial, shaker, and some country styles, generally work best. On the other hand, some modern pieces that are relatively simplistic, comprised of darkly finished wood, and are generally reminiscent of earlier times, also seem to fit well with the overall tone of the house -- sometimes even better than actual vintage furniture. And while I prefer to acquire vintage furniture, I sometimes find it difficult to obtain what I am looking for in used pieces. The multi-purpose writing table, on the other hand, is precisely what I wanted for the spinning room study. I think I would've been hard-pressed to find anything quite like it second-hand.

Spinner and ratchet screw driver; joining the table top and frame

The table arrived completely disassembled, but wasn't all that difficult to join together, in large part because it fastens with simple knock-down screws and connectors. For most joints, a wooden dowel is also inserted parallel to the connector to prevent movement in the assembled joint, as well as to provide the correct spatial orientation between the two parts. The only tools required are a 4mm allen head wrench (one came with the table, but I prefer to use an allen head socket with a spinner), and a #2 philips head screw driver (I like to use my ratchet screw driver on these kinds of jobs nearly all the time).

Remaining table-top hardware installed; the completed writing table

Five pieces of hardware fasten the table top to the main frame assembly: Three small hinges that attach along the edges of the top and frame, two larger spring loaded hinges that faciliate the angling of the table top over the frame, and a big ratchet-style arm that supports the table top when angled. I found it easiest to add this hardware with the table top upside-down on horses and the attached frame rigidly supported; in this case, I simple butted it against the wall.

Table and stool; top positioned at a comfortable angle for drafting

Once the top and frame are joined, the frame supports are simply inserted into the trestle legs, and two wooden pins are used to hold the frame at the desired height. The top can rest flat for reading or writing, or can be angled for drawing or drafting. Three capped inserts keep things from rolling off. For now, I've positioned the table against the partition on the south side of the room (more or less as shown in the last photo above). This enables natural light entering the window to illuminate the table top at a slight angle from just behind one's left shoulder. It also addresses the problem of what to do with that relatively empty wall space.