31 December 2016

Some Like it Warm

While waiting for the local woodmerchant to get back to me about the inventory SYP in the bigger warehouse, while waiting for a new consignment of lumber to arrive through the port of Shanghai, while waiting for the woodmerchant to find what he considers a quality selection of NanHuangSong Mu, while waiting until after the Lunar New Year, while waiting for some trees in rural Georgia to be milled into construction lumber, I was inspired to add a weblog posting in an effort to appear productive.
I've been following Greg Merritt's weblog, Hillbilly Daiku, as long as I have been writing about my woodworking ventures in the PRC. I vaguely recall first finding his postings about knots and making a fid. And more recently he wrote about his hide glue pots. Certainly one of the impediments to any woodworker adopting hide glue is coming up with a method of keeping the hide glue at proper temperature with a controllable heat source. The days in which an apprentice lad would put the glue pot on the potbelly stove, which he began tending before the tradesmen arrived, are in the realm of nostalgic lore, pace George Sturt.
With my first attempt to work with hide glue, along with a passel of other secondhand tools, I had bought an aluminum double boiler from Ray Iles. I had to run upstairs to fetch the the pot from the gas stovetop. There was no lid and the chilly basement workspace gave me about 30 minutes of working time before the heat had dissipated and the glue pot needed to be returned to the stove. It was the best that I could manage at the time. Hide glue was something that I had only read about and while there were (and are) some purpose built appliances for crafts that require hide glue, notably making stringed instruments, in the incipient Internet era, they were harder to find and out of my price range. 
Merritt, after buying a hide glue pot and warmer set offered by Lee Valley, decided he needed to go to the trouble of converting a wax warmer into a hide glue warmer. After confessing to Amazon's subliminal marketing scheme to impoverish us all, he read about the setup on on yet another woodworking weblog!
I think I could have saved Merritt a bit of cash. I'll explain the setup that I have been using for a few years now. It's interesting that a wax warmer might be so much cheaper than a warmer specific to warming hide glue. I believe that this speaks to manufacturing concerns pursuing the latest aesthetic depilatory craze. An electric appliance that maintains a constant temperature for liquefying wax or reheating hide glue ought to cost about the same price when brought to market. Instead, the former is $29.99 and the latter is $134.99. 
While I'm very much in favor of personal beautification, I chose to adapt my needs to an appliance that is manufactured on a large scale and more broadly used than even wax warmers.
Standard Office Appliance
 As you can see from the photos, this tea cup warmer looks very much like the warmer sold by Lee Valley. I cannot vouch for the comparative quality of its construction, but I have been using it for more than two years. It is preset at 60* Centigrade, a perfect 140* Fahrenheit for maintaining hide glue at workable temperature. Any such product sold abroad would be required to meet higher manufacturing standards for that market. 
Suitable for tea cups or coffee mugs
The tabletop warmer from Lee Valley sells for a mere $9.50. If I were not in China, I would buy that and then do as both I and Mr. Merritt have done: use lidded glass jars for the hide glue containers. In fact, if one looks carefully at the LV warmer, it's clear that is larger than necessary for the diminutive glue pot (1oz.). I use wide mouth, repurposed jelly jars (usually) to act as glue pots. At the low price of free, I can even afford to have two in use at any one time, soaking a new batch of the hide glue pearls in a refrigerator when I notice a low level of a working batch.
The lowcost setup minus hide glue
Another common Chinese appliance that has served me well for woodworking is an electric kettle. On days when I anticipate using hide glue, I remove the hide glue from the refrigerator and set it on the warmer. It's a slow organic process so that I can plan on having the glue ready for use in two hours' time or less.  Before I am about to apply glue, I turn on an electric kettle to have some boiling water handy. I usually fill a disposable cup (since they were available at both locations where I worked) and preheat and soak a brush before inserting this into the hide glue.
There are few demonstrable benefits to this method. Putting the brush into hot water keeps from chilling the hide glue down from repeated dippings. The hot water makes adjusting the viscosity part of the application process. If I need to repair a crack or let some hide glue trickle under a poorly clamped bit of veneer, I first let a thin stream of hot water invade the seams. The moistened and warmed surfaces better ensure that the glue flows inwards more deeply. Lastly, the hot water on hand makes any stray glue drips or misapplication simple to clean up. 
Lastly I never rest my brush in the hide glue and I rinse it clean with hot water after every use.
Where the original was cast iron, this one doesn't cost $47.50.

Lastly, happy and prosperous new year to all.