resetOn June 8 I had open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve, which had been damaged by an infection. It all happened quite suddenly. We only discovered the damage on April 4, when I had what we thought was a stroke. It turned out to be a severe TIA. It was serendipitous in that it triggered a battery of tests that uncovered the weakness in my heart. It needed fixing quickly. The doctors at Penn expedited my case. I had my heart catheterization on May 9 to make sure I didn’t need any bypasses or stents.

At 6am on June 8, Bethann & I went to the Hospital at U. Penn. and checked me in to pre-op. Later that day, I was so happy to wake up alive! Bethann told me that my first words were: “Where is my keyboard? I want my keyboard.” I wanted to write. Once I got my keyboard, I couldn’t focus to write anyway. I haven’t been able to focus to write or to paint since the surgery. My days have been full of visiting nurse visits, doctor visits, walks, naps. I have researched subjects to paint. I did one sketch that was less than satisfactory. I finally decided to start over where I started in April; with a self-portrait. That is why I call this painting “Reset”. I’m using it to reset my creativity to get back on track writing, painting, editing, etc.

This painting is based on a photo I took using my Mac just before my surgery. My granddaughter Isabella saw my hair blowing around in my face when we were riding in the back of their car. She said I looked like a rock star with my hair in my eyes. I had already started painting this when she said this, but had not painted the face yet. In the photograph, the computer screen is reflected in my sunglasses. I decided to paint an opening door, instead.

A Woman Saint on a Deacon’s Door?

St. Marina Altar Door

We customarily think of icons of Archangels or Archdeacons for the deacon’s doors on our iconostases, but during the Middle Ages in the Balkans, there were several churches who opted for St. Marina for one of their deacon’s doors. They chose her because of her power over demonic forces and those possessed, so she could be there always to protect the altar from intruders.

St. Marina was born in a pagan household in Pisidian Antioch. When she heard of Jesus Christ when she was twelve, she immediately converted and determined to live her life totally committed to Christ as a virgin. Her father disowned her for this. The governor, Lopharius Ebrotus, wanted to take her for his wife. When she refused, he tried to persuade her to sacrifice to idols. She refused to honor any but the living God. So the governor tortured her by having her body scraped and combed with iron combs and rubbed with salt, vinegar and lime, then threw her bleeding into prison. She was miraculously healed and encouraged by a resplendent vision of the Cross with a dove on it. At night, a demon came to tempt her and she exposed him and bound him with the sign of the Cross and cast him away. The next day the governor was amazed that she appeared totally unharmed. Instead of being convinced, he had her thrown into a cauldron of boiling lead. She asked that it be made like her baptismal waters and blessed it in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and was unharmed. Her tormentors were so enraged that they finally beheaded her. At the moment of her beheading the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to receive her, as witnessed by many who were there. She suffered in the year 270, during the reign of Diocletian. One of her hands is preserved in Vatopedi Monastery on Athos. There is a St. Marina Monastery in Albania, where more of her relics continue to work wonders and healings.

This Icon is tempera on wood and woodcut. It is an altar door from 17th century Bulgaria. Margaret is an English translation of the name Marina.

O glorious Marina betrothed to God the Word, thou didst abandon all things earthly and contest victoriously as a virgin. For thou didst trample on the invisible foe when he appeared, O holy trophy-bearer, and thou dost now bestow gifts of healing on the world.

New Front Door

Well, just three and a half years after I started it, the new front door has been installed. Hopefully, it won’t take me that long to finish the outdoor trim. There were some design changes made prior to, and during, manufacture, from the original design. We decided to abandon the idea of an operable window. There are enough windows that open, already. I also went with matching trim around the window, sanded flush. The three ash panels ended up being three different widths. I should claim some grand asthetic reason for this. The truth is that I goofed when I cut the first panel, so I had to figure out how to salvage the situation, using the remaining materials. I do like the new look, better, though.

Catch Plate
Catch Plate

We also decided to go with reproduction, hammered, black hardware. Bethann and I shopped at Knobs and Knockers at Peddler’s Village on one of my few good days the summer before last and each, independently, selected this lockset. It is a simple two handle, thumb lever latch with a separate deadbolt. They matched the lock to our current key. We ordered 3 heavy duty, 4-1/2″, black, ball-bearing hinges. (Even the store owner’s son was admiring them, when I picked them up.) We remembered to buy a matching black, hammered wreath hook.

Door handle
Door handle

During the course of building this door, I learned how to use many new tools. I have never had access to such an array of tools, or to such a patient teacher.  John Haggerty rescued me more times than I can count on this project. I not only learned how to properly put a door together, but why they are done this way. Don’t ask me to name most of these tools. I only know most of their names “in Elvish” as John says. He interprets pretty well, though.

For this door, I joined and planed the wood myself. John has a widebelt sander where you can feed boards through it to get them to get to a uniform thickness. That was exciting and dusty and loud. After I assembled the door, I routered the inset for the lite. I used a cool corner chisel to clip the corners. I needed to clean up a little smoother and deeper than the router bit would go into the corner, so I used a two handed knobber-do to get out the remaining scraps of wood. I think it’s a rabbet router plane. John will correct me. I will post a photo. I siliconed the insulated glass, laid it in the opening. I fastened purpleheart sticks to hold it in place. Then I sanded the whole door on a big table with a 15′ long sandpaper belt over it, known as a stroke sander. I then trimmed the stiles; those are the uprights on the door. Then I sanded it with ever finer grits with a palm sander.

Wreath Hook
Wreath Hook

I started to varnish the exterior side with water-based Varathane spar varnish and a terrible thing happened. It reacted with the purpleheart. It got gummy and bled gray onto the ash panels. I grabbed a paper towel and tried to get as much of it up as I could. Then I grabbed rags. John grabbed shellac and cut it by 50% with alcohol. I primed the exterior of the door with that. Then I varnished the purpleheart with four coats of Varathane. Then we scraped the ash panels with a rectangular piece of steel with sharpened edges, and varnished the ash panels. I flipped the door over and varnished the interior side with three coats of an interior, water based varnish.

The door is all beautiful. Now comes the scary part: surgery. I learned how to use the knobber-do, otherwise known as a line scribe. For that matter, I learned how to use a mallet and a chisel. At least, I learned how to use it a little bit better. I did end up splitting the front of my door at my lockset recess. You really need to have your wits about you when you are cutting your door for your hardware and understand how things go together. I walked back and forth several times between the shop and our house, measuring doorhandle heights and hinge placement.

New Door ExteriorBefore making any cuts on the opening side of the door, it needed to be beveled. If there is no bevel, it can’t open, or you would have to leave a huge gap. To make the bevel, I got to use the “Awsesome Tool 2″ otherwise known as the electric bevel plane. Set the tool for two degrees. Zip. Zip. And the bevel is done! Kwikset makes a tool for drilling holes for locksets. It is good for just about everyone they make and most of the ones any one else makes. You choose what your backset is for you door handle and your deadbolt are. Set the tool accordingly. tighten it to the door. It is self-centering. You use your 2-1/8″ hole saw from each side of the door and then your 15/16” hole saw through the edge of the door, before removing the jig. Easy as pie!

A door this beautiful needed a mailbox to go with it. From the scraps, I made a mailbox. It is not quite as finely crafted. I had to tell John to not watch at times. I just wanted to get it done. It does the job. I think it is quite beautiful.

New Front Door Design

This house is older than our former house and has an even smaller front door. The existing door is OK looking, but is starting to leak a bit. It is thin and does not have insulated glass. It opens into the bottom of the stairs. There is no point in leaving it open and having a screen door, because in the open position it blocks the door into the den and would limit cross ventilation. Bethann wants an operable window in the door itself. This presents an exciting design challenge. Here is what I came up with:

inside / outside
inside / outside

The plan shows the door in mahogany and maple. The local woods that I actually found for the door at Hudock’s Hardwoods about 8 miles from here are purple heart and ash. The door is 29.5″ by 76.5″. The rails and stiles will be made of 1-7/8″x 6″ purple heart, with the exception of the bottom rail, which will be about 8″ wide. The panels will be made of 1-1/8″ thick ash. It will be flush with the interior of the rails and stiles, leaving deep insets on the exterior of the panels.

The window will be 18-1/2″ square, 5/8″ thick tempered, insulated glass with 1″ lead strapping inside and out. This will be set into a 1″ wide ash frame for overall dimensions of 19-1/2″ square. This frame will be hinged on the bottom, so the window can open down and be secured to the inside of the door. I haven’t quite worked out how I want to secure it yet. (I am leaning toward transparent suction cups.) It will have a compression weather stripping gasket in the opening and two wooden toggles to hold it shut. There will be a 17-1/2″ square screen that will attach in the inset space outside the window using spring-loaded pegs in the warmer seasons.

The hinges and lockset will be distressed nickel. The door will be finished with four coats of water based polyurethane, to allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine through. I’ll try to keep you informed as the project progresses.