News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Sandblasting Challenge

I've spoken often enough here already of the various challenges we've faced when putting together this new workshop in the US out of what donations and loaner tools we were able to scavenge, plus what equipment we could afford to bring over from France.  One of our biggest losses was our old sandblasting compressor, which was quite powerful and which was key to the really deep blasts I am known for.  We have a compressor here in the states, but it is a loaner, and undersized for blasting.  I am not complaining in the slightest about a gift compressor, because without it we'd be doing no blasts at all, but it did present us with a challenge - How to deal with the problem of less pressure?

Well, one simple way to do this is just to make a lot more smooths.  I'd been a bit frustrated by our low rate of output these first couple of months, even beyond the unfamiliarity with the new workshop, until I realized it was partly because we were doing so many more smooth pipes than usual, and they took so much more time.  Back when I first got started, I immediately identified that a good sandblaster was going to be the make-or-break linchpin of a profitable pipe business, and that factor hasn't really changed, even though we've gotten much faster at finishing smooth pipes over the years.  So, apart from any other solution, one of our most pressing priorities is to make enough money to buy a proper-sized compressor again.

That isn't going to be possible any time soon, however, so there was a pressing need to look for other solutions in the meantime.  The most simple of those is to find new ways to make our sandblasts interesting, without having to rely so much on gross horsepower to hammer the wood away.  Two possibilities interested me the most - Using finer media for finer surface detail, and applying some more complex grain-staining techniques to bring out the grain of the briar beenath the textured surface of the blast, as can be seen here in these photo examples. 

I haven't done this much before, since deeper blasts effectively remove all the stain and make any that remains virtually invisible in the maze of surface texture, but on a lighter pressure blast like this, it's very possible to apply deep penetrating grain coloring which can then be blasted away at the surface, leaving it to color the grain of the wood only.  This is particularly effective on crosscuts, which can normally make for rather dull blasts, but the example above shows how this method of staining brings out the grain itself, beneath the rings.  Also, the sheer detail possible with finer media at lower pressure produces a fascinatingly detailed surface, as can be seen in the first pic above.  The situation is something of a microcosm of life itself, really - No sense moaning about your current limitations, but rather, find something new and interesting you can do with what you've got. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

One Year On, by Emily

Today's blog post is written by Emily, who may be doing a bit more writing here in future.  There will probably be more chapters of this to come, from both of us, as time permits, since this is far too big and complex a subject to cover in the few paragraphs allotted to a typical blog posting.

It's been almost a year since we left Herbignac.  Even as I write it, it seems strange; I know that the time has passed, but it feels as though we've only been back for about five minutes.  And yet there has been time to reflect, time to remember, time to think about what we've learned -- if we did learn anything!  But how to sum it up, now there's a puzzle.....

For me, it has been very strange to return to Greensboro, the town where I grew up and where my parents still live.  I'm experiencing "deja vu all over again" because so many things are right where I left them twenty-odd years ago.  A great deal has changed, though, and I have been caught a few times by roads that don't go where they used to, or that weren't there at all (I-40/73 bypass, anyone?) when we left.   Entire neighborhoods and shopping centers have dropped out of the sky during the time we were abroad, and former landmarks have disappeared to make way for them.  But enough of the familiar remains to make me feel at home, something I am grateful for after seven years of having to pull out a map (or pull up Mappy) every time we had to go somewhere we'd never been before.

I'm staggered by North Carolina in the spring.  The blooming trees and flowers (and the pollen!) have completely overwhelmed me.  Several years ago a family friend sent me photos taken at this time of year in the Greensboro Arboretum, and while they were gorgeous, I couldn't look at them for very long because they made me so terribly homesick.  I'm profoundly grateful to be able to appreciate the seasonal beauties in person this year.  And of course, the birds!  Hearing and seeing familiar birds is a pleasure I savor every day.  Now I just need to refill the feeders.

I don't mean to imply, by the way, that Brittany wasn't beautiful.  We were fortunate to be in a lovely area, in a town surrounded by a mix of forested tracts and cultivated fields, and within easy driving distance of several beaches of widely varying characters.  As anyone who has seen our efforts at photography will realize, it was an amazing place.  In fact, one of our biggest gripes while we were there -- and a lingering regret now that we've moved -- was that we never seemed to have enough time to explore as much as we would have liked.

At the same time, there is something inexpressibly comforting about being in the midst of an area that we have known all our lives.  We continue to be surprised by familiar pleasures: it sounds completely trivial to say it, but even after a year the excitement of going into a bookstore full of books in English hasn't worn off.  Trever has his driver's license again after seven years without one and is learning his way around Greensboro; so far we have found two traffic circles.  And of course, the fact that we're both within easy driving distance of our parents is one of the biggest enjoyments of being here.

Time has taken its toll; both sets of parents are older, and some of their friends and contemporaries have died, while many of our friends have moved away.  But our American attitude toward travel has quickly reasserted itself, so that driving several hours to visit someone doesn't seem as imposing a task as it did in France.  It is strange to think that it takes longer to drive to my parents' house now than it did to drive to the Leclerc in Guerande from our house in Herbignac!  Distance, like so many things, really is relative.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

The immigration process

Legally immigrating to France was a nightmare.  It consumed an entire year, and then a month of every year thereafter, simply to supply each year's requested paperwork.  However, it's not just France - for all our bluster about American can-do spirit and all that, I believe that government immigration workers really are real world versions of the Dilbert accounting trolls:

I just found this article on what it's like to immigrate (or TRY to immigrate) to the US from Australia, a supposedly friendly, trusted country, and there were so many parallels with our experience getting our French visas that I wasn't sure to laugh or cry...

The 5 Circles of Immigration Hell