Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Long, Strange Journey to a Windsor Chair Class

Building a Windsor chair had been on my list of things I've wanted to do for many years. I've always loved the form from the first time I ever saw a sack back Windsor and have since come to develop an affinity for many other styles; the comb back and the continuous arm, as well as the less conventional, like the writing arm chair and the Windsor fan chair.

After considering taking classes at Mike Dunbar's Windsor Chair Institute in Maine (too far away and too much of a "chair factory" type setting for me) and one of Elia Bizzarri's classes at Roy's place (the dates just never lined up for me) I got the nerve to approach Charles Boland of Storybook Joinery when he was demonstrating at the Mount Vernon Colonial Craft Fair about taking one of his classes. Well, a couple more years went by and in that time I got to know Charles a little better from seeing him at other colonial market fairs and through the new Chesapeake chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM). We developed a bit of a friendship and between his knowledge of Windsor chairs and learning how much he researched and knew about the history of Windsors and history in general, I decided that he was the teacher for me. It was time to try to set a date for a class and make this happen.

We decided on the second week of February, 2014 for a sack back chair class in Charles' beautiful shop in Springfield, WV. I was so excited. I'd  check in with Charles once a week or so to let him know how much I was looking forward to it and to just keep in touch. Then, on the morning of January 7th, after sending Charles an e-mail the night before, once again expressing my excitement of the quickly approaching class, I got an e-mail back from Charles saying he needed to talk to me, could he call. Well, it wasn't a good phone call. In the early morning hours of the 7th, a very large truck lost control on icy road conditions and plowed into Charles' shop, knocking it 3 feet off the foundation and doing extensive damage. I was heartbroken about the prospects of my class being cancelled, but felt even worse obviously for Charles losing his shop like that. Building and selling Windsor chairs and fine period furniture is Charles' livelihood and now suddenly he had no place to work. Not surprisingly I got an e-mail two days later saying that he had tried to find other accommodations where he could teach my class, but to no avail. I was extremely disappointed but obviously I fully understood.

Fast forward a few months and a 3 1/2 week stay in the hospital in March/April. By this time, Charles had learned that his shop was salvageable and was well on his way to getting it back in shape. I contacted him about possibly rescheduling the class and he said possibly in October. Well, Jen wasn't too excited about the prospect of me making that kind of drive and being alone away from home for that long with the health issues I was having. So, unbeknownst to me, she called Charles, explained the situation of my health and my subsequent diminished strength and stamina, and asked if he thought I could handle the physical demands of building a chair and if there was any chance he would consider coming to my shop to teach me. He graciously agreed to do just that and tailored the class to fit what he thought I could physically handle. Needless to say I was thrilled and very touched that he'd agreed to do such a thing to help me out. We talked back and forth about it several times and settled on the first week of June for him to come and teach me to build a chair. I was SO excited and at the same time, so fearful something would go wrong to derail the plan. Well, nothing went wrong, Charles made it here, and I had one of the most enjoyable woodworking experiences of my life. The rest of the story can be told in pictures. Thank you Charles for helping me to attain one of my woodworking goals. And thanks for being a good friend.

Day one. Shaving spindles on the shave horse with the spoke shave, in
period clothing.

Leg holes drilled. Now for the spindle holes.

Day two was mostly about shaping the seat. Here,
beveling the bottom of  the seat with a draw knife.

After some adze work, continuing to shape and refine the
seat with an inshave.

Smoothing out some of the marks left by the inshave
with a compass plane.

Reaming the holes to accept the tapered legs. The reamer
and I were not on very good terms. I couldn't seem to get
this part right no matter how hard I tried. Oddly, my
struggle with the reamer seemed to amuse Charles. :-)

Legged up at the end of day two. Still a long way to go
with but one day left.

Drilling holes in the arm with a brace and a spoon bit.
LOTS of holes to drill on a sack back. This was the most
physically taxing part of the whole build for me.

Seating the spindles with a brass mallet and listening for
the dead thud sound that lets you know you're there.

Chiseling a split to accept a wedge in the top of one of
the spindles.

Worn out at the end of the class but some kind of happy
with my chair.

The Master and the aspiring student during day two. Mr. Charles Boland,
who came dressed in great period outfits every day of class, adding to the
experience for me. 

A week or so after the end of class with three coats of
Salem Red milk paint. I was tempted to stop here and
have a red chair. I'm glad I didn't.

And after a couple coats of Pitch Black milk paint.
Again, I was tempted to call it finished here.
Again, I'm glad I didn't.

The pretty much finished chair, after rubbing down with
0000 steel wool to let some red show through the black
and then coating with several coats of danish oil. THIS is
the finish I was looking for.

Signed, sealed, and ready to be delivered. (To my wife and the living room)

The sack back Windsor in it's ultimate resting place after a few coats of
paste wax. So very pleased with the way this came out.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

More Details Coming Soon!

I know the blog has been awfully quiet with no new post for quite a while now, and for that I apologize. It's not because there has been no action in the shop the past two months, it's actually been quite the contrary, it's been a hive of activity out there.

Since my last post, I have had visits to the shop from some pretty major players in the woodworking community. People I feel lucky to call my friends and that have taken time from their busy schedules to make the trip to visit me on my home turf.

One of the giants and innovators of furniture finishing, author/translator of great woodworking books, present and future, and one of the smartest men I've ever met, Don Williams, came by for a visit and spent a few hours conversing. It was fun to get an inside peak of all the things he has planned, from books to classes to barn renovations. Don is one hell of a nice guy and has a great blog over at Don's Barn. Oh, and did I mention he is super smart? But he is smart without making you feel dumb; just a real down to earth guy. This was actually Don's second trip down to the shop to visit; he came back in 2012 before I had even finished and moved in. Thanks Don for taking time out of what has got to be one of the busiest schedules of anyone I know to come visit me. It means a lot to me and I sure do appreciate it. OH, AND he bought me gifts of Pollissiors and a chunk of bees wax. So cool!

My next visitor was here at the shop for three days; Master Windsor chair maker Charles Boland. I've gotten to know Charles through SAPFM and from picking his brain at various colonial craft fairs where he exhibits his skills and knowledge. I have always loved and been fascinated by the Windsor chair in it's many forms. Partly because they were ever-present at so many of the events that created our nation in the 18th century, but mainly just because I find them absolutely beautiful. They were the predominant chair in use at the Pennsylvania State House (later named Independence Hall) during the Second Continental Congress, where the 13 colonies voted for separation from Great Britain and ultimately signed the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson actually penned the words to that famous document in a revolving Windsor chair of his design that he had a Philadelphia chair maker build for him. The name of that chair maker escapes me, but I can guarantee you that Charles knows who it was. That's one of the things that makes Charles so special, not only is he a master chair maker and fantastic at his craft, but he is extremely knowledgable on 18th century history in general and has done extensive research on the chairs he has built which adds so much to the authenticity of his chairs.

Anyway, the reason that Charles was at my shop for 3 days was one of the other things that makes him so special, his generosity and kindness. As some of you who follow the blog know, I've been dealing with cancer since March of 2010 and this sometimes leaves me with not as much strength and energy as I used to have. It had always been one of my dreams to build an authentic reproduction of an 18th century Windsor using the traditional methods and, obviously, entirely with had tools. Well, my health had gotten to the point, after a 24 day stay in the hospital, where my wife Jen didn't feel comfortable with me making the 3 hour trek to Springfield, West Virginia and being away from home for a week without her to attend a chair making class at Charles shop. So, unbeknownst to me, this wonderful woman contacted Charles and explained who she was and my situation and asked Charles if there were any way he'd consider coming to MY shop to teach me to build a chair. Well, Charles being the person that he is not only agreed to teach the class at my shop for no additional charge than his normal class fee, but also custom tailored the class to shrink it from 5 days to 3 and take a couple of the more physically taxing processes out of the equation so that my body could handle the class. It worked out great and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Thanks Charles! More details on the build and the finished results coming here soon.

My third visit, a few weeks ago, was from Jerome Bias, author, passionate woodworker, avid historical researcher, joiner at Old Salem Village in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and all around nice guy! I had learned about Jerome by seeing him on an episode of the Woodwright's Shop with Roy Underhill and by reading an article he did for Popular Woodworking Magazine about Thomas Day, a cabinetmaker and free man of color in North Carolina in the 19th century. Mr. Day was one of the premier cabinetmakers in North Carolina at this time and Jerome portrays him at events and talks that he gives sometimes. Thomas Day was quite the success and has a very interesting story. I highly recommend googling him. But back to Jerome. After knowing about him through the various woodworking outlets I mentioned, I actually got the pleasure to meet him in July of 2013 when I took a week long class at Roy's Place on making a joint stool from instructor Peter Follansbee. We talked quite a bit that week and I instantly knew that he was someone I could hang out with for hours talking woodworking, history, or anything else for that matter. Just a really cool guy to hang out with in general, so I was thrilled a month or so ago when I got an e-mail from him saying he would be in the general area if I was up for a visit. Heck yeah, come by anytime! Well, he did and we hung out in the shop, having lunch and talking woodworking for 3 or 4 hours. I was really sorry he couldn't stay longer. As I said, he's someone I'd never tire of talking to. One of those people were there's never those long periods of silence. Thanks for taking the time Jerome. Hope  to see you in September at WIA!

In addition to all the cool visiting woodworking luminaries, I've become rather passionate about another form of woodworking recently; one that isn't so physically taxing. As a matter of fact, I can sit on my arse on my joint stool with a hewing log in front of me for 95% of it. And I'm REALLY enjoying the new challenge. More details on this coming soon to this very blog. :-)

Also, the shop is in the process of PHYSICALLY expanding a bit to make room for some open air, but under the cover of shade work. This expansion will make it possible and give me the space to delve into my latest passion, the pursuit of the dark arts. Muah ha ha!!! And, as you may have guessed by now, more details to come about this in the near future. And yes, to this very website! :-)

Whew, feels good to blog again. Hopefully you guys will be hearing from me again real soon, expanding on the three subjects I spoke of. Until then, take care everyone!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg Trip Report

Welcome to the Plane Shavings Woodworking Blog / Travel Blog. :-)

This past weekend, my wife Jen and I traveled to Colonial Williamsburg for a weekend at my favorite destination. No different than the many weekends I'd traveled here before except for one major difference; this time we would be staying right in the historic area in a room at the Brick House Tavern. The Brick House is one of two taverns renting individual rooms in Colonial Williamsburg, Market Square Tavern being the other. Both are located on Duke of Gloucester Street about a block and a half apart. The Brick House is right next to the armory complex.

We left our house Friday morning and got into town around noon. We caught a movie at Movie Tavern to kill a little time until our 4 o'clock check in. After the movie, we decided to ride over to the Williamsburg Inn where all check-ins for historic area lodging are handled. The Inn is a first class hotel in every way. The doors to the lobby are opened for you and when we stepped through we were greeted by the sound of a harpist playing in the large sitting area of the luxuriously furnished lobby. Although it was only 2:30, we were able to check in early. After getting some paperwork straight with the friendly woman at the front desk, we met with the concierge to get a few other things situated, mainly confirming our dinner reservations and program reservations. The concierge was also very pleasant and helpful. When it was time to be shown the way to the tavern we were instructed to follow a bell hop in a van who carried our luggage to our room for us after showing us where to park, which was very conveniently directly behind the tavern.

Upon entering our room, I can't say I was blown away by the size or luxury appointments in the room; it was small, no more than 140 sq. ft. not including the bathroom. We were on the second floor in a corner room facing Duke of Gloucester Street. Being it was a corner room, we also had a window on the side of the room which overlooked the armory complex. The bathroom was also not large, and being on the second floor, the front wall of the room followed the roof line of the tavern. The only place this was really a problem was in the shower, where you had about 2 feet of full height shower and then it tapered down with the roof line until it ended at about 3 1/2 feet of height. Not ideal, but manageable. The room was furnished in 18th century style furniture with a queen bed, dresser, two night stands and a small occasional table, and a desk with a windsor chair. There was also an upholstered wing chair in the corner. Where the room really proved it worth was it's location. For me at least, there is nothing like being able to walk out your door at any time and be right in the heart of the historic area. It was also pretty cool to hear the clip-clop of horses go by all day carrying tourist on carriage rides. We definitely took advantage of the location. After going out for another amazing dinner at Aberdeen Barn ( both Jen and I's favorite restaurant in the world ), it was back to our room and our 18th century world. Friday night I walked the historic area til almost midnight taking pictures that I wouldn't normally get and Saturday morning Jen got up and went for a brisk exercise paced walk while I chose a more casual pace armed with my camera again. So nice taking pictures early in the morning before the crowd gets there.

Saturday was our busy day there. I spent most of the day in 18th century dress, which made me pretty happy ( I know, what a weirdo ). I did get asked several times when buying things in the historic area if I had my CW employee card so they could give me my employee discount. :-) We booked a free 2 o'clock program a Great Hopes Plantation called Working the Soil, Healing the Soul. This was about being a slave in the 18th century and the hardships of slavery and the bonds slaves formed with each other to make it through each day. The program was very well presented. Extremely informative and enjoyable. After that hour long program was over, we walked back to our room ( such a nice option rather than having to drive to a hotel in town ) and relaxed a little until our dinner reservation at Kings Arms Tavern at 5:45. We were seated upstairs in a nice room with about 6 tables, authentically furnished for the period. My meal was better that I expected, prime rib with roasted red skinned potatoes and rice. Jen got a seafood macaroni dish and I don't believe she was very impressed with her meal. We both got the soup of the day before our meal, which was a chicken corn chowder with bacon. We both agreed that this was delicious. No room for dessert.

After dinner we walked our food off a little and then met at the Greenhow Lumberhouse for our 8:30 evening program, Ghost Amongst Us. This was fun. It was a candlelit tour that took us inside the governors palace, the Wythe house, and the Geddy house for stories told and acted out by actresses portraying 18th century characters from their stories. The stories were fun, but I enjoyed just being in the building after dark with just the light of a lantern; a much different feel than visiting during daylight hours.

Sunday we got up, did our walks around the nearly empty historic area again, and then toured the Capitol building and checked out the armory complex before having to check out and head home. It was an amazing weekend and being able to stay in the historic area really enhanced my enjoyment of it all. It's a weekend I'll always remember. 

A Friday night picture taken from beside the Post Office

Prentis Store at night

Our Tavern

Beautifully quiet and peaceful in the early morning light

Lathe behind the Wheelwright's Shop

Early morning at the Hay Shop

A different angle of the Hay Shop

Jen and I's favorite tree. A beautiful, sprawling Compton Oak across
from the St. George Tucker house

Me waiting for the Great Hopes program to start. Imagining that I am
looking over my freshly planted tobacco fields at my Williamsburg

Jen staying cool in the shade waiting for the program to start

A picture in our room after changing into my dinner

At Kings Arms Tavern waiting for the meal
Getting a little goofy waiting for our meal. Must've been food deprivation. 

My beautiful bride at Kings Arms Tavern

Friday, May 9, 2014

No Woodworking Here; Just Good Times With Good Friends

Last Saturday, we had a cookout at our house that my wife Jen put together for me. Things weren't looking real promising earlier in the week as we had 3 straight days of fairly heavy rain and the yard was pretty much flooded. Luckily, the rains moved out by Thursday night and the yard had dried up pretty nicely by the time the party rolled around on Saturday afternoon.

We had a really good turnout, I'm guessing around 150 people, and I had such a great time. My energy level was good all day long and I felt great. It was so nice and touching to see so many people show up. I had friends I went to high school with that I hadn't seen in years show up; even some from long distance, one from North Carolina and another from South Carolina. And lots and lots of family and friends. The weather couldn't have been better; sunny and in the high 70's. We had a ton of good food too. Everyone brought a dish and my father in law brought a tow behind grill and cooked 4 pork butts, a beef brisket, a venison roast, 40 pounds of chicken, 100 hamburgers and about 40 hot dogs. And everything was absolutely delicious! I've never had anything come of his grill that hasn't been great.

I say this post has nothing to do with woodworking but shortly after the party started, someone asked to see the shop. Well, I took them out for the tour and for the next hour and a half or so, every time I'd get ready to leave the shop to rejoin the party outside, 4 more people would come out to see the shop. And just about everyone that came out was asking what the spring pole lathe was and wanted to see it in action. Well I was all too happy to oblige. My friend Paul joked that by the time the day was over, the hunk of Walnut that I had chucked up in the lathe as a practice piece was going to be a toothpick. Needless to say, I had a great time out there showing off the shop and it's contents. I'm so glad I built that place and so thankful that my wife encouraged me to do so.

I missed my local SAPFM meeting that day which had Chris Schwarz as the guest speaker and also Don Williams and Michele Pietryka-Pagan of the Roubo translation fame. I was a little disappointed when I first heard the date my wife picked and found it was going to conflict with this SAPFM meeting that I'd been looking forward to for months, but after experiencing the joy and happiness of the cookout, I had no regrets.

Thanks to everyone who came out and make it such a special day for me. Special thanks to my wife for putting it all together. To my mom for helping so much and buying most of the supplies, my father in law for not only cooking up all the meat to perfection, but for supplying it also, to my aunt Debbie for providing 100 burgers, my cousin Troy and uncle Jimmy and uncle Tommy for all their help in getting the yard and garage ready, my friend Billy for providing the large tent, to my friend Crystal for taking and providing all the good photos, all the people who let us borrow tables, chairs, coolers, etc. and everyone else who was so generous with their time and efforts. I truly had my best day in a long time.

My Father In Law-Grill Master Jimmy Quade
Some of my work crew
Gladly showing off the shop
Some of my high school classmates
The crew from work
My friend Pat's very cool '54 Chevy
Me with the in-laws and out-laws
Me and my Baby :-)

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Little More Colonial Williamsburg Creeps Into My Backyard

This Friday I finally got my cresset put up that my wife had gotten me for Christmas. I put it at the beginning of the brick walk out to my shop. Loaded it up Saturday night with nothing but fat wood and lit it up for the first time. I don't know that I've ever felt a fire so intensely hot in such a small area. It burned really bright and hot, but it was done in about ten minutes. I can't find anything on-line about what or how you're supposed to burn a cresset so I'm just experimenting until I find a balance between a nice fire and one that last longer than a few minutes. Last night I split up a short piece of oak that I had on the firewood stack into pieces about 3/4" square or so and put a little fat wood in the cresset first and then the oak on top. It burned good and lasted longer, but still not long enough for my liking. Next time I'm going to start out pretty much the same, but I'm going to split some pieces of oak about  2" square, add those after the fire gets going good and see how long it burns with some larger pieces of wood. Eventually I'll find the right combination. Meanwhile, it's fun to experiment with it and it adds a pretty cool look to things out there after dark.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

An Update on a Personal Note; And a Completed Project

Just figured I'd give everyone a health update. On March 19th I went and saw the doctor  from Mercy Medical in Baltimore that has been trying to keep by biliary drains free from the constrictions of the tumor below my liver. I was to go in to the hospital for an endoscopy and an ERCP and probably stay a night or two. Well, that turned into about 6 procedures and a 24 day hospital stay. Not at all what I expected. After about 18 days I think I lost my good patient status. I've never been so ready to get out of a hospital and get home. It really stinks when you're two hours away from everyone you love and the doctors won't let you leave and there's nothing you can do to get yourself out of there short of leaving Against Medical Advice in which case you run the risk of your insurance not paying for any of your stay. Anyway, they finally let me out 12 days ago. I immediately felt better just getting to sniff fresh air for the first time in almost a month and it really felt good to finally be home and in my own bed  and able to walk outside whenever I wanted. I ended up coming home with a pick line for IV antibiotics and two permanent external biliary drains. Not ideal, but the drains are helping me to feel better even though they are a PITA. Bottom line is that the doctors told me that there's really no more that they can medically do for me so I'm pretty much at the mercy of the tumor at this point. I'm feeling stronger every day since coming home though and I'll never quit fighting until I draw my last breath. Ok, enough of that. On to what this blog is supposed to be about; woodworking!

I finished this Roy Undrerhill inspired tool tote about a week before I went into the hospital. It was the first thing I've ever done with compound/slanted dovetails. I admit, I largely faked the layout but I'm pretty happy with how they turned out and they add great strength as they are supposed to do. To make it easier to carry, in addition to the center divider/handle, I added a nice 1 1/2" leather strap to go around my neck and onto my opposite shoulder. This really makes carrying it much easier. The center divider/handle has a through tenon through the ends of the tote. Before I put everything together, I cut a square hole toward each end of the leather strap for the tenon to pass through and sandwiched the strap between the divider and the ends of the tote. Makes for a pretty secure connection.

My original purpose for making this tote was to carry some tools with me to the Fort Frederick 18th Century Market Fair this weekend. My friend, master windsor chairmaker Charles Boland of Storybook Joinery always demonstrates and sells chairs there and very generously offered that I come there as his guest as many days as I wanted and he would teach me some of the finer points of windsor chair making. Well, unfortunately it was just too close to me getting out of the hospital for doing any actual woodworking like draw knifing, etc. so I won't be able to take advantage of Charles' very generous offer. My wife is going to take me there for a few hours on Saturday though if I'm up for it. I'll be sure to visit Charles and hopefully get some pictures of his set-up and beautiful chairs as well as some of the other vendors. So much neat stuff there. I'll be going in full fledged Adam Cherubini style funny clothes; puffy shirt, waistcoat, buckle shoes, etc. If all goes as planned I'll try to do a blog post with lots of pictures and a full report.

The finished tool tote a couple coats of milk paint and a top coat of
Danish oil.

A view of the inside of the tote.

Close-up showing the detail of the through tenon and the strap emerging
from the slot in the end of the tote.

The tote hung up giving you a better idea of the length of the strap and
what it would look like slung over your shoulder for ease of carrying.

Detail of the leather strap. I had originally purchased a woven nylon strap
for this. So glad that I ordered a nice leather strap instead. 1 1/2" wide.

Detail of the strap with the tenon going through it and sandwiched
between the center divider and the end piece.

One of  the tools that was to go in the tote with a blade guard that I made
from walnut to protect the blade and my fingers. This is an Auriou
drawknife and is by far the nicest drawknife that I have ever personally
used. I know you can buy a vintage draw knife fairly inexpensively, but
I've never regretted buying this one. It's amazing how many uses you can
find for a nice, razor sharp drawknife.

Little better shot showing how the blade guard was made. Hole drilled
toward the bottom with leather lacing going through to tie the guard
on to the drawknife. I try to use materials that would have been
available in the 18th century whenever possible. Slot was made with
a plow plane and then pieces glued into the ends of the slot and
planed flush.