Monday, July 29, 2013

A Great Week of Woodworking and Fellowship

July 13th thru the 19th was as enjoyable a seven day stretch as I can remember ever having. I spent those seven days in tiny Pittsboro, North Carolina at The Woodwright's School. My wife, Jen, had gotten me the trip as a Christmas gift for the Saturday and Sunday Restoring Wooden Planes class. Then, about two months ago when I told her that Peter Follansbee's Joint Stool class started the day after the plane class ended, she told me to go ahead and book that one also. How cool is that?! She's so good to me. :-) She rode down with me on Friday and stayed with me thru Monday morning, when she had to head back home. We stayed in a nice little bed and breakfast, the Rosemary Inn, that was within easy walking distance to the school. It was a nice little get-away but unfortunately Jen spent most of the weekend battling sinus issues and working in the room. Probably not quite as fun for her as it was  for me. :-(

Saturday morning I headed to my Restoring Wooden Planes class with Bill  Anderson as the teacher. Bill's a great guy and a great teacher. He explains things well and is very helpful with diagnosing problems. I was glad to get my large Clark and Williams smoother operating properly. Ever since I'd bought it, I could never get the wedge to hold. After trying a couple different things with no luck, Bill checked the iron and sure enough, there was a hump on the back side of the iron. A little time at the grinding wheel to hollow out that hump a little and I had a functional premium wooden smoother! I was also able to rehab two dado planes and patched the throat on a vintage smoothing plane. I learned a lot and was glad to get these 4 planes functioning properly. It was a productive weekend for sure.

Sunday night I was like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Monday morning and the Joint Stool class with my co-favorite woodworker, Peter Follansbee. Making it even more exciting for me was the fact that Monday morning was to be spent busting open oak logs at the home of my OTHER co-favorite woodworker, Roy Underhill. Monday morning started out with Roy showing us around his place and getting to know the other students in the class. We had a great bunch of guys! The first person I met was Jerome Bias, the joiner at Old Salem historic sight. I was familiar with Jerome from seeing him on an episode of The Woodwrights Shop and from the internet but it was great to actually meet him. There were a couple people who traveled a pretty far distance to attend, Kelly from Dallas and significantly further, Dave all the way from New Zealand! Roy spent most of the week trying to get Dave to try distinctly American/southern dishes ( Chicken and Dumplings, Pecan Pie, etc. ). There was Luke from Virginia who worked as a historical interpreter at a living history museum in the Richmond suburbs, Bill and John, both great guys who were fairly local to Pittsboro, and Tony, who it turns out lives less than 5 miles from me! Small world. Bill Anderson rounded out the class, finishing up a stool he'd started the last time Peter was in town. After some donuts for fuel in Roy's kitchen, we were off the rive some oak. Turns out we had some primo, straight grained oak logs that Elia Bizzarri had sent to Roy. After getting about 40 stiles, 40 stretchers, and 20 aprons ( 1 long and 1 short apron out of each apron blank ) it was back to town for lunch and some hewing and planing at the school. I never had a bad meal all week by the way. Pittsboro's restaurants are all very good! After lunch, we started on the stiles. Green oak planes SO easily and before long we had barrels of shavings all over the place. We also found out the importance of cleaning your tools at the end of every day. The tanic acid from the wet oak will rust out plane irons and chisels in a hurry.

Day two and three were a lot more hewing and planing with I believe some cutting of tenons and chopping of mortices mixed in along with chamfering the stiles and adding lambs tongues. I really enjoyed the new experience of green woodworking. And Peter's method of chopping mortices was better than any I'd ever tried before. He starts in the middle of the mortice and alternately works his way toward both ends. Works great. Thursday I got to do some carving, which was a lot of fun. I used Peter's scratch stock and then found a nice SJ Addis gouge upstairs at Ed's amazing tool store that was just the right size and sweep that I needed to complete the carving on the  aprons.

Friday was the moment of truth when we got to assemble our stools, drilling and drawboring everything together with bone dry oak pegs that Peter had brought with him. A draw bored joint is a powerful strong joint; no glue necessary. I hated to see the week end, but it was very satisfying to see a stool come together from what was a log a few days before. I didn't have time to get the seat board finished and attached before I left, but I got that finished up earlier today, applying a thumbnail profile on the edges using a rabbet plane, a fore plane, and a smoother. All that's left now is to apply some sort of clear finish to the stool and enjoy 400 years of comfortable seating. ( Peter says that they're guaranteed for 400 years, after that you're on your own. )

I can't say enough about how enjoyable  and educational this class was. Peter is a first rate teacher and one hell of a nice guy to boot. He kept the class fun and entertaining all week. I'm really hoping he comes back next year for a carved box or joined chest class. I'll be first in line to sign up for one of those. And God bless Roy Underhill for all he's done and continues to do to promote the craft of hand tool woodworking. He is a tireless champion for the cause. I'm very lucky to have learned from both these men as well as from Bill. Can't wait to get back down there next year!

One of our three prime oak logs.

So this is what we're supposed to end up with?

Our Motley Crew.

Splitting very nicely.

A stack of stretchers and a stack of aprons.

Back at the school squaring up a stile.

Draw boring it all together. That's Kelly in the background.

Getting a little silly. The victory pose after draw boring it all together and weight testing.

Roy, Peter, and myself with my almost completed stool. Doesn't get much cooler than that for me.

Back at my shop, seat board with the edge profiled and pegged onto the stiles.

In the light and shadows.

A little closer look at the carving.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Shop is Open - Colonial Williamsburg Style

Inspired by a side trip to Colonial Williamsburg on my way back from a class at The Woodwright's School, I came home and promptly ordered a flag to put out beside my shop. For those of you that have not been to Colonial Williamsburg, the way to tell if a shop or an exhibition is open is to look for a flag outside the building. Flag out, building open; no flag, building closed. So I thought that would be a neat little feature to have outside my shop door. Granted, Colonial Williamsburg uses a British flag and I ordered a "Betsy Ross" style Colonial American flag, but you get the gist of it I think. :-)

Flags out. Come on in!

Oh, I also put in a sidewalk out to the shop before I headed to North Carolina. Really nice to be able to walk out to the shop without getting your feet wet or grass all over them. I was lucky enough to come across some circa mid to late 19th century handmade bricks a few years back and this is what I used for the sidewalk. I really like the look. Being hand made, there are some variances and inconsistencies and this is right up my alley.

I jokingly call this my "path to enlightenment".

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My New (To Me) Completed Hatchet

I was able to complete my hatchet handle the other day. I'm pleased with the way it turned out. It's nice to make your own tool handles because you can fiddle and whittle until it feels just right to your hand and suits your grip. I think hatchet handles are even easier to custom fit than saw handles; less worrying about the style of them. At least in my mind.

This was a fun little project and the first time that I've made anything useful from a piece off the firewood pile. All of the shaping and fitting was done with a hatchet, a drawknife at the shave horse, and a little work with a paring chisel. I don't have a decent spoke shave so even the fine tuning was just done with the drawknife, bevel down. The toughest part, not surprisingly, was getting the top of the handle that goes into the eye to fit well. This is made even more difficult when the  eye has sort of a bell shape to the inside as mine did. It didn't come out quite as tight as I'd have liked; I had to glue a small wedge to the back of the handle at the bottom of the eye section, but that  tightened things up significantly. With the hard part done, it was time to shape the rest of the handle to the shape I wanted. When I got it to where it felt good in my hand, I shaped the butt end by nipping the corners with a crosscut saw, eased the edges with a paring chisel, and smoothed it up with a bit of 120 grit sandpaper. I carved a B in the end of the handle with a v gouge just to personalize it a little and then put two coats of Tru-Oil on it. This is the same finish I put on my saw handles. I really like the look and feel of it and it couldn't be easier to apply.

After letting the finish dry really good for a few days, I cut a slot about 2/3 of the way down the part that the eye of the hatchet fits in, tapped the hatchet head on real well, and tapped in a wedge that I'd made from the same oak log the handle came from. This tightened things up nicely. Then I trimmed the excess length from the wedge and called it a finished hatchet. It feels good in my hand and I'm happy with the way it looks. I'll get a pretty good idea of how it works in about 12 days during my Joint Stool class with Peter Follansbee down at Roy's place. Very much looking forward to that.