Sunday, September 20, 2009

Instrument Makers of Alabama Project

I must apologize for the delay in posts, this summer turned out to be very busy.

One of my projects this summer was working with the Alabama Folklife Association documenting Instrument makers of Alabama. The interviews will reside in the state and national archives, and the final project will be exhibited at the Smithsonian in 2010.

The deadline for the project is September 30th. If there are any luthiers of traditional instruments living in Alabama who would like to be interviewed, or if you know someone who would like to participate, please contact me. I would really like to have at least one or two more interviews.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hands to Work

On a recent trip to Michigan we stopped and visited the Shaker village at Pleasant Hill.

I've been fascinated by the Shaker community for a number of years now, being most familiar with the Pleasant Hill Community in Kentucky.

People came to this country for many different reasons, but one thing united them all, a desire to try something new, live by a different set of rules. Naturally, with such independent spirits and liberal beginnings there were many Utopian experiments in Early America, religious and otherwise. To me the Shakers were the most endearing, beautiful and efficient experiment.

The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing were given the name Shaking Quakers, or Shakers, by the outside world because of their unusual dancing. The Shakers did not believe in a house of worship, instead believing that work was worship. Their mantra was "Hands to work, Hearts to God."

The Shakers were industrious, inventive people, inventing or improving many objects that we still use today. They believed in technology, science and hygiene. On average shakers lived 15 to 20 years longer than the people of the "outside world."

Shakers believed in equality. They believed that men and women were equals, and races were equal. They were vehemently opposed to slavery, on some occasions purchasing slaves from their masters to free them from slavery.

The architect of the Pleasant Hill Community was Micajah Burnett, a brilliant man referred to as the "Thomas Jefferson of the West" by one of the Shaker historians that I talked to. A self-taught mathematician, architect and engineer, he was brought to Pleasant Hill in 1809 by his parents. He was 17 years old. At the age of 26 Micajah began mapping out the Pleasant Hill Community.

For me, the Shakers represent the height of American design and philosophy. Craftsmanship that attempted to go beyond human, design that worked simply and efficiently, with satisfying and pleasing proportions. With all of the tools available, perhaps the most valuable was Ockham's Razor. We could learn a lot from their aesthetic today.

It is easy to feel the presence of craftsmen at Pleasant Hill, whose goal was to transcend what is human, and whose mark of craftsmanship was to attempt to go beyond what is possible.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Focus On Book Arts Conference

Colophon Book Arts Supply will have a few of my Ebony Folders for sale at the Focus on Book Arts conference held on the campus of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. The conference will take place June 24th through the 29th.

If you are attending the conference, please feel free to inquire about the Ebony Folders.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Colophon Book Arts Supply

I am happy to announce that Colophon Book Art Supply will carry my hand crafted Ebony “bone” folders. For information on ordering please contact Colophon Book Art Supply.

Phone: 1.360.459.2945

Fax: 1.360.459.2945

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Book Arts Tools

I am pleased to announce the creation of my new blog: Randy J. Arnold: Handmade. The site will focus on Book Arts/Binding Tools. I plan to continue this site as well. As always, I welcome any thoughts, comments or suggestions.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ebony Bone Folders

Images of a couple of ebony bone folders and box that I made for a great book artist and friend in Denver. Her father was a harpsichord maker. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of his shop and was given a large piece of the ebony that he made the keys from. I used some of that ebony for this project. I hope that it will be of some use.

Ebony Bone Folder: Ebony with pearl inlay.
Box: Spalted Oak (gathered locally), ebony, leather (locally tanned).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

That Which Was Old Will Be New Again

With the cool spring we have been having here in Alabama, I've been taking advantage of the beautiful weather and busying myself with a project that would soon be unbearable with the inevitable coming of the summer heat. Anyone who has not experienced summer in the deep south will just have to take my word for it.

Time to take care of the leaks in the roof.

Holes and nails patched...

covered with aluminum covering and finished. Hopefully the fixed roof will help protect the tools from rust.

Along the same theme, I decided to build a tool cabinet to protect some planes and saws from moisture. It gets very humid in the south, and a little bit of extra protection goes a long way.

I used some of the old boards that were saved when I put down a new floor last year. The old pine was rotten through much of the board, but I was able to salvage plenty to build the framework for the cabinet. The top and sides were from the old shelving on the side of the shop. Nice, thick old growth pine that I'm happy will see a new life and usefulness.

The floor boards were purchased locally, I imagine in the 1940's. I noticed the stamp E.E. Jackson Lumber.

The boards were cut and planed to uncover some beautiful wood underneath.

And here is the finished cabinet.

I keep this container of silica gel in the cabinet with the tools to protect them from any moisture.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Greet the Spring

Walking around the house, seeing the signs of spring. Bright, bright green leaves on the Oaks. and the blooms on the fruit trees, reminds me of a poem by Gary Snyder:

The rising hills, the slopes
of Statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word for you, to
you and your children:

stay together

learn the flowers
go light

For the Children

A poem by Gary Snyder

From the book Turtle Island

Happy spring.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bone Folders

Amy attended a workshop today taught by Julie Chen. It was a big deal, as Julie Chen's work inspired her to become a book artist. As a special gift, I made Amy a pair of ebony bone folders to use. Here are some photographs documenting the process.

The box was made with found wood. Bone folders are made of ebony with pearl inlay. The second bone folder specially shaped to aid in box making.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Southern Lights

This blog was mentioned in an article in the Tuscaloosa News Sunday.

Thanks, Ben.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Last week I inlaid ebony into the pot and installed a walnut cap. After gluing the Walnut cap, it was time to install the fingerboard binding. As I held the plastic binding in my hand, I thought, I can't install this. I can't put this on the fingerboard. It's plastic, and the reason why I enjoy building is to move away from many different ways.

Every time I look around I see plastic. Things that look to be what they are not. Cheapness disguised as the genuine article. That little piece of plastic binding that I held in my hand became a lot more to me than something to hide the tang of the frets.

I cut a few small strips from a piece of walnut.

I put the strips in a bucket of water to soak, then looked around for a heat source to make a bending pipe. I dug up an electric camping stove and attached a pipe to it with wire.

I made a metal bending strap from a clamp used on the gluing form for the pot.

Bent the sides carefully and glued them to the fingerboard. The tape holds the binding in place as the glue sets.

And here we are, walnut binding on the fretboard. It makes me feel better to get away from the plastic. Hopefully that is the direction that I am personally moving as well.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Snow Day

Not only have I begun to feel Spring in my bones, I have also begun to see it on the trees. Tell tale white flowers forming on the pear tree in the back yard, the slightly perceptible pink just beginning to bud on the peach tree.

And then today, Mother Nature's last hurrah. The raised bed garden, almost finished, rests silently under a blue tarp. The signs of my work lay as remnants in the yard. Scaffolding lay dormant on the porch, springtime painting only just begun.

This is the first snow in 9 years, and the heaviest snow since the early or mid 1990's.

All is silent. The tools and the work lay quietly for the day. This is winter's final moment. Inhale, exhale, then greet the Spring.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Weather Report: February 10


I walk downtown, wearing a good many of the clothes I own, keeping my head down and breathing through several thicknesses of a wool scarf. A day so cold it hurts to breath; dry enough to freeze spit. Kids crack it on the sidewalk.

Walking with care, snow barely covering the patches of ice, I begin to recall a canticle or a psalm - I can't remember which - and my body keeps time:

Cold and chill, bless the Lord
Dew and rain, bless the Lord
Frost and chill, bless the Lord
Ice and snow, bless the Lord
Nights and days, bless the Lord
Light and darkness, bless the lord

Another line comes to mind: "at the breath of God's mouth the waters flow." Spring seems far off, impossible, but it is coming. Already there is dusk instead of darkness at five in the afternoon; already hope is stirring at the edges of the day.

Written by Kathleen Norris
From the book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How To Build a Banjo

1. Plant a tree. I prefer black walnut.

2. When the tree has grown to just the right height and circumference (approximately 80 years), it is time to begin.

3. Look at the tree. Try to visualize the banjo within the tree.

4. With a chisel, remove the parts of the tree that are not a part of the banjo. For your safety, you may consider laying the tree on it's side before carving.

And that's all there is to building your very own banjo. Enjoy.