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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Spotlight Series: FARLEY AND LOETSCHER MANUFACTURING COMPANY


This is the first in what we hope will be a series of interesting posts on various topics related to woodworking or handcrafts.



FARLEY AND LOETSCHER MANUFACTURING COMPANY. Once the largest mill working plant in the world! Dubuque, Iowa.



Farley and Loetscher began humbly on January 1, 1875 when Christian LOETSCHER, a twenty-five-year-old Swiss immigrant, opened a mill working business.

One of many expansions of the company occurred in 1882 at a cost of between $25,000 and $30,000. The saw mill was removed and that part of the business abandoned. The plans called for the buildings to extend from 8th to 7th streets. The warehouse would be on 7th street and join the business office which was to be moved to the corner of 7th street and an alley. At that time, the company's business had grown to such a degree that local lumberyards could not supply enough lumber. The problem was solved when Farley & Loetscher contracted for one million board feet of lumber from sites in Wisconsin.



Loetscher pioneered the use of west coast white pine lumber in 1900 as the company branched out to markets around St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Des Moines, Iowa. In 1903 capitalization of the company was increased to $400,000 through the sale of bonds. Farley & Loetscher then invested a small amount in McCloud River Lumber Company of California. This company was then contracted for an annual production of ten million board feet of ponderosa lumber.



Experimentation was being done by the millwork companies at this time. As the pine forests of Michigan were depleted, some millworks along the Mississippi experimented with spruce. This was discontinued when large millworks introduced ponderosa pine which was not rot resistant and needed treating. After being kiln dried, it was seasoned. Southern pine was rejected because of its high moisture content.

In 1905 the company announced the construction of a solid block of buildings in Dubuque. The firm asked the city council to vacate the alley running through the block bounded by Jackson, Washington, Seventh and Eighth streets. It also asked for the right to lay track and switch to the right of the proposed new building. Business was slowing by 1908 and Farley & Loetscher only kept the California sawmill crews busy for seven or eight months. Once the lumbermen who owned the trees in California opened their own mills, the Farley & Loetscher mills were sold with most of the employees returning to Dubuque.



In 1910 records indicated that the company annually produced 500,000 windows and 300,000 doors. In addition the company manufactured frames, mouldings, blinds, stairwork and interior finish. Between 1,200 and 1,500 carloads of lumber were used annually. The company owned and operated its own electric light company and maintained a crew of electricians to care for it and the telephone systems used in the plant. Nothing went to waste. Wooden shavings were advertised for those interested in horse bedding.



By 1927, when the company was led by J. A. Loetscher, Christian's son, the firm occupied buildings covering twenty-three acres. The company also maintained subsidiary companies. Loetscher and Burch Manufacturing Company operated in Des Moines. Another subsidiary was Roberts Sash and Door Company of Chicago.

The company in 1930 was an employer of between eight hundred and nine hundred people. The seven company buildings covered five city blocks. Each of the buildings, except for three warehouses, were connected by bridges that crossed over the streets.



One of the structures was the largest building in Dubuque until the development of the JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS. In 1904 Christian Loetscher attended the St. Louis Exposition and bought forty huge timbers, each 13 by 11 inches and up to sixty feet in length, when the exhibition buildings were being dismantled. These were shipped back to Dubuque and used in the construction of a building described as "the largest lumber shed in the world." Thirty-two timbers were placed around the perimeter of the cupola while eight were spaced at intervals along the center of the building. In 1930 this building easily stored 6 million feet of lumber.

Years before recycling became known, Farley and Loetscher gathered waste chunks of wood and all the sawdust. This was transported to the roof of one of the buildings to a funnel-shaped named "the hog." There the material was ground to fine dust which was carried to the basement. Specially designed boilers received the dust from a moving track. When burned this dust provided all the heat for the buildings.

The company's electricity was generated by a dynamo within the plant. Unlike some companies of the time, however, there was no commissary so nearby businesses benefited from the purchases of food.



A plastics division was added to the company's line in the early 1930s. This produced laminated plastics for decorative and industrial uses and once occupied three acres of floor space. (23) A newspaper article of 1930 especially praised a new product "Formica" which resisted heat, cold and water.

In 1942 the company qualified for an "Honor Flag." Issued by the Treasury Department, the flag was issued on the basis of a company's employees participating in buying United States War Savings Bonds. More than 1,100 employees were purchasing bonds through payroll deduction according to Dubuque County War Bond Committee representatives.

The end of WORLD WAR II meant that the production of doors, windows, and other supplies that had gone to the military simply shifted to civilian use. There was no need to replace equipment or retrain employees. The only problem was the need in 1944 to hire four hundred more employees due to the demand for products. In addition to new homes, surveys nationwide indicated that 34% of homeowners were planning renovations. FARLITE, a plastic sold to the government for use in signal corps radio equipment and table tops, would be provided for civilian use.

Farley & Loetscher products include the main staircase of the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE; display cases for the ROSHEK DEPARTMENT STORE; millwork for the U. S. Navy torpedo boat Ericsson and Revenue Cutter Windom; the interior of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.; and the outer doors of the main chambers of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D. C.

In addition to being the first millwork in the city to utilize ponderosa pine and recycle byproducts including sawdust, Farley & Loetscher was the first factory in the city to have electric lighting and the first to be equipped with an automatic sprinkling system. Around 1903, the company was the first in the city to install a telephone switchboard.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Vintage stickers


This is our first run of a planned several set series of vintage themed stickers.  Some of you may recognize at least one of these from a set of cards we issued years ago as a promotion for one of the wood shows we exhibited at.  We had mostly forgotten about those neat cards were it not for seeing a set at our brother from another mother's house, Narayan Nayar.

So here they are, the first set of three.  These are reprints from 19th and early 20th century cigarette cards, once included with a pack of cigs to stiffen the pack and provide a little amusement.  We had considered including a stick of pink gum too but alas no one does those anymore.

These should be ready to ship on our website Thursday morning.  Price will be $6.00 for all three.  Get a set, stick em' on your tool chest or anywhere you want to add some character.  2"x4".

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Judgement Day Has Arrived, we welcome our robot overlords....

Well, long in the tooth is an understatement here lately.

Judging, not so much by our friends and patrons, from whom we still get the occasional kudos for our website, but by the mellifluous and subtly patronizing emails we receive in the dozens per week from all those fans from far away lands that so generously offer their expertise, time and energy,  for a small fee of course, to pointing out how beautiful and effective our website is while at the same time, in the kindest manner, how crappy, how antiquated, how 1999 it is.  Like Lloyd Christmas we're tired of our website eking it's way through life, we want to see it flourish and grow.

So we've been working on the new site for the last year.  All of the text has been pored over, some of it rewritten by our resident wordsmith.  Some of the principle photography, no idea what that means but it sounds good, has been re-shot, and the entire look and structure of the site has been properly coded.  We used real code this time finagled by a real person who has put in a lot of time bolstered and fueled by uncountable Jack's pepperoni pizzas.

The site now looks all grown up but we hope, not too flash.  The links all work, we think, the days of telling customers "you're looking at a cached version.....no no, add an l on the end of htm......you can't get to that page from there, that link is wrong, go to this website then hit crtl f5 and it will take you to another website that holds the older version which will redirect you to one of our vendors, their site has the correct link back to our website......"  We have a proper cart, something we introduced earlier this year but is now even better, and an account login if you choose.  We've added a static header that remains in it's proper place without some kind of incremental shift in the wrong direction every time you click on a link because the previous Webmaster was way closer to a Dungeon Master than a real coder (actually most previous DMs are probably pretty good webmasters,......not this one he's way closer to the attributes of a Barbarian than a magic user, hits points high, intelligence points not so much).  The home page has one of those fancy rotating carousel image things that's mostly annoying but we've kept it toned down a bit.  We've added an About page that still doesn't say much but should satisfy anyone who still thinks we're a family of hicks making an odd vise here or there while sitting on the divan watching our stories and suckin' on ribs....hey wait a minute.....

So thanks to the crew at Benchcrafted that allowed me to finally upgrade to Windows 10 for fear that ditching Windows 7 would have rendered my copy of Dreamweaver 4 inoperable, the most shocking bit being that the copyright on the splash screen is 1997-2000!.  So yes, I guess we have been coding like it's 1999.  I hope I never again have to code a single line or think about cascading somebody's style sheet, or render a layer and convert it to a table.

Now if the robot overlords could just do our bookwork.....

And in the vein of getting current........just like Signor Roberto we would like to say "the rent stay lika before!" but unfortunately it can't.  We only really raised prices 1 time in 10 years!  There have been a couple small adjustments in those years but the current M series Tail Vise is only $10 more than it was 6 years ago or more, and that was an off the shelf handwheel not the current custom cast unit.  The Glide M is only $100 more than it was 6 years ago, again with an off the shelf wheel........but it now includes a Crisscross which is $100 so it hasn't actually risen in price at all, and that after adding a custom wheel and 3x knobs.  Mag-bloks have only gone up $3 & $5 respectively.......ever!  So expect some increases in the next few weeks across the board mostly.  We had wanted to get the increases in before we launched the new site but it will just have to happen in spurts sometime between now and January.  Don't get too worrisome though, the increases for the most part will be small.

Launch should be Friday Dec. 1.

Next up:  the blog is getting a face lift too, but that won't happen for a few more days yet.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Still time for the Ultimate Xmas gift: Benchcrafted Classic Workbench

We have for sale a freshly-built-to-spec example of our Classic Workbench. Made entirely of hard rock maple, it's outfitted with our Classic Leg Vise w/Crisscross, Planing Stop and one Hand-forged Holdfast, For full specs and photos, see our Classic Workbench Plans page. This bench is built exactly to the specs listed.

The bench is in the white, that is, we didn't apply any finish to any of the surfaces. You can either leave it that way or apply a finish of your choice (we hope you leave the top unfinished, or at most one coat of oil.) The bench is completely assembled and ready to use.

The Benchcrafted Classic Workbench is constructed entirely with in-compression-for-eternity drawbored mortise and tenon. It's as solid as humans can make it, short of growing a tree in the shape of a bench. The bench is built to the highest standards of traditional German craftsmanship in the utopian village of Amana Iowa. Our collaboration with the craftsmen in Amana, along with our experience in traditional workholding has yielded a workbench that is truly heirloom quality, but offered at what we think is a very reasonable price. There are other bench makers out there who are offering stunning museum-quality, marquetry-encrusted benches with our hardware and designs (Frank Strazza and Mark Hicks among others.) We consider our flagship Split-Top Roubo as nearing the pinnacle of bench design (if there is such a thing) but we wanted to offer an essential bench built to high standards--an approachable but bulletproof tool for passionate enthusiasts that are perhaps just getting into the craft. Our principle bench maker has been building furniture at the Amana Furniture Shop for nearly 50 years. Needless to say, 150 years of woodworking tradition in Amana directly back to 19th century Germany speaks for itself. Many of the Amana craftsmen are multi-generational woodworkers.

The bench is available for pickup in eastern Iowa (contact us for details) or white glove delivery, in which the bench is wrapped in moving blankets, transported in a moving van used for furniture delivery only, then unloaded at your address and brought inside by the delivery techs. It costs a bit more to ship this way, but less than you might imagine.

Price is $2600. Delivery fees extra. Delivery typically takes about 2 weeks.

If you're opening a school, community shop, woodworking club or refitting an existing facility with worn out or poor quality benches, please contact us, we can supply you.

To purchase this bench, send us an email with your contact info to: info@benchcrafted.com

Monday, October 30, 2017

Video: Hi Vise Build




Watch Guy Dunlap build our Hi Vise in this excellent video from our friends at Highland Woodworking.

Hi Vises are in stock and ready to ship.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Handworks

Just a short compilation video from Handworks 2017


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Videos: Build A Bench With Our Hardware


Image courtesy of Lost Art Press

We're often asked if we'll ever offer a bench building video, or complete videos on how to install our vises. And the answer is, not anytime soon. You may be wondering if this is shortsightedness on our part, lack of interest, or that we're too cheap to shell out the money for a video studio, which is significant. The reason is, there are others out there who can do it better than us. Here they are.

Marc Spangulolo, aka The Wood Whisperer
https://thewoodwhispererguild.com/product/split-top-roubo-workbench/

Marc was the first to make a serious video on building our Split Top Roubo. Marc's video skills and presentation are excellent. You won't find a more comprehensive and easy to follow series than Marc's. For $110 you get almost 10 hours of instruction covering every aspect of the build, and the vise installation, along with printed plans. It's an excellent value. Marc also includes videos on retrofitting a Crisscross and our latest Glide, in addition to the original Glide leg vise. 

Chris Schwarz and Will Myers

In this video ($35) Chris and Will not only build a bench together (featuring our Classic Leg Vise), but discuss different ways of getting there. There's some pretty funny moments too. Definitely worth the watch even if you're not building a bench. 

Guido Henn at Fine-Tools.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ4doJvy_5w

Guido has two excellent videos (in German) on the installation of our Glide Leg Vise and Tail Vise. Although the videos are in German, they are mostly without narration and subtitles, and the video quality is excellent, providing a clear view of each step of the process. The third video is a tour of the bench, in English. 

Matt Estlea

Matt studies furniture making in Oxford, England. Follow along as he build "Bertha" his Roubo bench outfitted with Benchcrafted vises. Excellent production quality.

KC Woodworks

Some good enthusiast content here. Watch as Kev makes a Hi Vise and retrofits a friend's bench with a Glide. 

Tom Fidgen

Not so much an instructional video, but nice to watch nonetheless. Very relaxing. Watch Tom build and assemble a Moxon vise entirely with hand tools. 

Mike Bandte

An ongoing series of Mike's Split Top Roubo build, in German. Mike also has a series on building our Moxon vise. 

There are many others out there, and a "Benchcrafted" search on Youtube will yield loads of results.






Thursday, June 15, 2017

There and Back Again.........Moxon wood

A few years ago we offered complete Moxon kits, the hardware and all the wood needed to make a complete vise, milled and ready to go.  It wasn't fancy, but all the parts were there to spec and all the holes drilled.  We offered this mostly because there was a demand.

At some point we got so busy we simply couldn't do this anymore, other things were taking our time.  We still get requests though, so in that vein, we are now offering these kits once again.  The new kits are a shade nicer than the old ones, still made from hard maple but these are finished just a smidgen better and the stabilizer batten now comes glued up to the rear chop.

So here wee are again, the complete kits are ala cart on our Store page.


Unsolicited Plug

We don't really plug other products much.  But on occasion we like to toot a horn about this or that.

At Handworks recently we met Janet Switzer of Camp Robber canvas.  We immediately liked her wares and started thinking of things to make.

One of the things on the top of our list was a flat bottomed satchel in heavy duty waxed canvas for the trunk of our cars.  I shot her some dimensions and within a week (!) had a bag in my hand.  Not only was it spot on what I had in mind but it is built like a tank.  I can't imagine it ever wearing out.  These would make an excellent tool bag.

Her Instagram is here and her Etsy store is here.






Video: Swing Away Seat



We shot this short video to show our new Swing Away Seat in action. We have them in stock and ready to ship.

Further details here.