Thursday, June 9, 2011

My weekend at Roy's

Well, my day to attend the Woodwrights School finally arrived. I'd been looking forward to it for months. I was scheduled to take the "Dovetails, Mortise & Tenon w/Roy" class and was extremely excited to spend the day with one of my heroes.
I'd been working like crazy to get a tool chest built to transport some of my own tools to use during the class and it came down to the wire. I was installing the hinges for the lid and putting on handles the morning I was to leave for the class. But I got it done.
Roy's school is in a very quaint little town called Pittsboro in North Carolina. And it's really not a stretch to say it's Mayberry-like. I got into town about 7:30 that morning and since school wasn't supposed to start until 8:30, I had time to walk around a little. What a nice little downtown. And I do mean little. I had to chuckle to myself when I walked past the barber shop just a few doors down from Roy's and saw a man and his son getting haircuts with red and white striped barber smocks on in the old fashioned shop. Could've been my imagination, but I swear the barber looked a lot like Floyd Lawson.
I worked my way back to my car parked in front of the school and waited. About 8:15 I saw the familiar figure of Roy Underhill come around the corner and open up Disney World, er, I mean the school. Trying not to look too anxious and trying to give him a little time to get straight, I waited about 10 minutes to go in. I was first there so I introduced myself and asked if I could bring my chest in. Absolutely he said, so off I went to lug it out of the trunk. It's fairly heavy with tools in it. I worked my way to the back corner bench were there'd be room for the chest and prepared to settle in. Roy made my day when he came back to look at the chest and told me what a great job I'd done and how I didn't need to be in his class, and that I should be in Bill Anderson's advanced dovetail class the next day. He offered to switch my registration to that class. I told him thanks but I really wanted to take a class from him. I was on cloud nine from his little compliment and before class started I called my wife to tell her what he'd said about the chest and about the class tomorrow. Without me even asking, she suggested that I take Roy's class and stay for Bill's the following day also. What a woman!!! So my weekend just got a lot better before it really even started.
Roy's class was full, ten people, with woodworkers of various skill and experience. Time to get to work. Roy has a great way about him. He puts you at ease, explains things well, and makes the learning fun with his wit and humor. He is also extremely knowledgeable. Obviously about woodworking but about so many other things also. More on that in a minute. After a brief talk on safety it was time to get dovetailing. First up were through dovetails. The way we did things that day, at the request of a student, was Roy would explain a step, then we go do that step, then come back for an explanation of the next step and so on. Roy is what I would call more of a "feel" woodworker than an analytical, by the book guy. He doesn't care what the angle of the dovetail is, doesn't even care to find out most times. He just decides how may tails he wants on the tail board and goes from there. A 3/8" chisel determined the width of our pin sockets. Doesn't matter what size you use, the point is, make this measurement the width of a chisel you have. After laying out and cutting the tails, we marked the pin boards by placing them in the face vice, laying the kerfed tail board on top of the end of the pin board and placing the toe of the saw in the kerf of the tail and pulling back. Although I'd seen Roy use this method on TV before, it was the first time I'd tried it. After all was said and done I have to say, I liked it. We finished marking the pin boards, cut them with our dovetail saws, removed the bulk of the waste with coping saws and then chiseled to our base lines. Time for a test fit. Whew, not bad. First dovetail came out nice. Time for lunch.
We all had lunch together at the restaurant right next to the school. I can't think of the name right now to save my life but it was delicious. Great food, good service, and killer shakes served in an old fashioned glass with the extra brought to you in a stainless steel cup that the shake was made in. This brings me to what I was saying earlier about Roy being knowledgeable about so much. When I brought my tool chest in, I just had the rope handles going through holes I'd drilled in the cleats and tied in a knot. I told him I needed to learn how to braid rope to make a better looking handle. Well, he told me to bring some rope to lunch and right there in the restaurant he took the braided rope apart into 3 strands and showed me how to braid my handles! I was so excited about this new found skill that when I got back to the hotel I braided two handles, took the cleats off my tool chest, grabbed my carcass saw and bench hook and with the bench hook on the hotel dresser, sawed the backside of the cleats open to accept my new handles. First time I'd done woodworking in a Super 8 and I'm sure the maids were wondering what all the saw dust was from. Termites?
Oh, back to class. After lunch we moved on to half blind dovetails. I'd never really done these before and was thrilled when they turned out not half bad.
Next was mortise and tenons. We laid out and sawed the tenons first and then used a marking gauge and the tenons to lay out the mortises. This was also a first for me and gave me a chance to try out my new Ray Iles mortice chisels. Boy are those a dream to work with! I'm gonna have to look for excuses to do more mortice and tenon work.
I'm really glad I took this class. I learned a lot, gained a lot of confidence and had a GREAT time. I can't wait to go back and take other classes. Just wish he was closer. I'll do a write up on the advanced dovetail class here in the next few days.
Oh yeah, they have an amazing tool store upstairs also. If you love old vintage tools like I do, this alone is almost worth the trip. Great prices too.


Bob Rozaieski said...

Sounds like an awsome trip! And great job on the chest! I've got a copy of Roy's small chest that he did for PWM on my to build list before the next time I need to travel with tools. I like your rope handle better than the turned handle from the article/show though. So how about a post on braiding the rope handles now that you're a pro ;)?

Joe said...

Wow, sounds like a great experience. I love that you built the chest for your tools. I took a similar class a few months ago and many people showed up with their tools banging around in sheet metal boxes. That sound is just like nails on a chalkboard. It made me proud of my pathetic wood tote. A joiners chest like that is on my short list of stuff to add to my shop. Very excited for you.

baconj said...

Thanks Bob. It WAS an awesome trip. Can't wait for the next one. I'll see if I can throw together a short piece on Roy's rope braiding method without mucking it up too much. :)

baconj said...

Thanks Joe. There's nothing like a wooden chest or tote for woodworking tools. Metal just seems unnatural. I hope to get back to work on the chest soon and finish up. Still have to plane down the carcass dovetails, make a skirt and dust lip, and apply a coat of milk paint. Dang house chores and excessive Maryland heat and humidity have been conspiring to keep me out of the shop.

Vic Hubbard said...

Wow, Jamie! What an once in a lifetime experience! Even when I go to WIA this year, I don't expect that kind of one on one. Luck dog!!!

Derek Olson (Oldwolf) said...

I would so love to have the opportunity to take one of his classes, Good for you Jaime! I absolutely love the pic you have there with Roy reveling in the tool chest. I have to laugh about Roy measuring with the width of his chisels because I do the same thing and I don't remember where I picked that up from. Now I think it might have been Roy.

Great Post, Great Chest. Thanks

mdhills said...

Nice use of woodworking in the super 8. Have you looked at Fidgen's small tool chest? The chest has some workholding integrated -- a LV surface clamp and a small shooting board.

And I agree on the Ray Iles chisels being oh so right to use...