Friday, August 16, 2013

Another Aspiring Young Woodworker in the Family

A while back, I blogged about my oldest daughter Casey making a dovetailed keepsake box. I have a younger daughter also, Gillian, who's 11 (12 in eight more days), and she has been on me to get out in the shop and build something since I was laying the brick for the foundation of the new shop. Well we finally got out there to work on something a few weeks back. She chose a sliding lid candle box as her project. I went to the home center and picked out a nice 1 x 6 piece of clear pine and we were all set to go.

To get started, we sketched out a basic plan for the box and determined the size that she wanted and then it was time to start laying out and cutting. I set her up with a 6' folding rule, my striking knife and wooden square for marking a line, and my crosscut backsaw and bench hook for sawing. I also had her chisel a kerf on the waste side of the struck line to give a nice shoulder for the saw to ride against. With just a little instruction, she was on her way. She did a great job crosscutting the pine to size and as long as she remembered to keep an athletic stance and light grip on the saw, she went through it like a pro.

Marking an end with a striking knife and a wooden square.

Sawing to  the line with an athletic posture and a light grip.

Not a bad start!
Once she had the two sides and two ends cut to length, I had her lay out the rabbets in the sides to accept the ends. She marked her lines on the ends with a Hamilton marking gauge set to the thickness of the pine and then marked the end grain to 3/8". After chiseling a kerf on the waste side of the marking knife line, she sawed down to the 3/8" mark and then I had her chisel out the waste with her chisel placed just above the 3/8" scribed line. From there we did a little clean up with a rabbet plane.

Marking a line for the rabbet.

Chiseling out the waste.

Once the rabbets were cleaned up, it was almost time for assembly, but not before making a groove for the top to slide in. My current plow plane only has one iron, and it was wider than we wanted for the groove, so we decided to do it old school. I had her mark the top of the groove with a marking knife on both sides and on one end and then reset the gauge and mark the bottom of the groove on the three pieces, scoring all the lines deeper than normal. Then, armed with a chisel and a mallet, she went to plowing the groove. I showed her how to use the chisel bevel down and start at the far end of the piece and work her way back as she made her groove. Then we used the bottom of the groove to set the height of the front piece where the top would slide over it and cut that to width. Now it was time for some assembly.

Laying out the groove for the top to slide in.

Chiseling the groove.

Working her way back.

We just used yellow glue and some headless brads from Tremont Nail to put the sides together. I set her up with an eggbeater drill and the smallest bit I had, but before she went to drilling I showed her how to lay out even spacing on the nails using a pair of dividers. I'm a big fan of using dividers for measurement. Much less chance for error than when using a rule. She did a good job with the drilling (she didn't break my tiny drill bit) and hammering the nails.

Using the eggbeater, very carefully.

Putting it all together.

After the glue had dried we measured up for the bottom and Gillian cut a piece to length on the bench hook and then ripped it to width on the saw bench with a somewhat fine toothed rip saw I made. She was a natural at ripping. Followed a line as good as any seasoned vet and while keeping everything nice and square. Next was the only tool she really had trouble with, the plane. I'm not sure if the bench was a little too tall for her or if she didn't have enough weight to hold the plane down to the wood firmly, but I ended up doing the planing for her, planing the edge of the bottom until it piston fit in place. More laying out with dividers, boring holes, and nailing to install the bottom. Now for the top.

A natural with the rip saw.

Same routine to start the top as was for the bottom, cut to length and rip to width. Then I planed a bevel on the top for her until it slid smoothly back and forth in the groove. We added a recessed finger pull with a gouge for good measure. Time to pick a finish.

Gillian wasn't sure if she wanted a stained or a painted finish so we took a piece of the pine that was leftover and tried several different stains that I had on hand. After seeing how the stain looked on the pine, she decided she would paint it. Good choice. She liked the milk paint I'd used on my tool chest and I had some left over so that made the decision of color choice an easy one. Two coats of milk paint later and she had a nice little keepsake box that I hope will stay with her for the rest of her life, as well as the memories of building it. I know those memories will always be with me.

The proud woodworker, very pleased with her results.

One of her weapons of choice, my crosscut sash saw.

Great job Gillian!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Somewhat Hidden Gem in Southern Maryland

In addition to woodworking, American history is another passion of mine. I've always enjoyed learning about 18th century America; not only the political history leading up to and including the American war for independence, but probably even more so, the social history and how normal colonial citizens lived their daily lives. I had been to Colonial Williamsburg, the premiere living history museum in America, once or twice as a kid, but rediscovered it around twenty years ago and got kinda hooked on it. Just ask my wife; I dragged her down there so many times that she got burned out on it and had no desire to go back for about two years. I think she's finally ready to venture back down there though. :-) Visiting the Colonial Williamsburg trade shops, especially the Anthony Hay cabinet shop, was a big influence on my wanting to go the way of hand tools only in my woodworking. I would see the skills of the craftsmen in the Hay shop and the beautiful work they did using only 18th century style tools and methods. I don't know if it was the romance of the whole thing or the lack of noise and dust that drew me to hand work, but I'm glad something did.

I say all that as background to what this post really is about, our own living history museum in my home county. I'm half ashamed to say it, but in all my years of living in St. Mary's County, I'd never taken the time to visit our own living history museum, Historic St. Mary's City. I'd drive 3 hours one way half dozen times a year to visit Williamsburg, yet had never driven the 30 minute drive from my home to visit St. Mary's City. Shameful. Well, I finally rectified that last week when I took my two daughters there for the day to check things out. We were all pleasantly surprised at what we found.

St. Mary's City was founded in 1634 and served as the colony of Maryland's capital from then until 1695 when the capital moved to Annapolis. After a tenuous start, St. Mary's City thrived in the second half of the 17th century with a booming tobacco economy and a growing population which led to the construction of public buildings. But when the capital was moved to Annapolis in 1695, St. Mary's City's population quickly dwindled and soon there was not a trace of the old capital. An archaeological program was started in 1969 and unearthed hundreds of artifacts and foundations of original buildings. I'm not sure when the site opened as a living history museum, but it's been there pretty much as long as I can remember.

The girls and I started our day off watching the orientation movie in the gift shop, then it was off to the reconstructed state house and then down to the water to board the Dove, a recreation of one of the two ships that brought the 1634 settlers and their supplies from England. After a picnic lunch, we walked to the Town Center, which consisted of a couple dwellings and a print shop where the girls got to ink and operate the press and then got to keep the contract they had printed. This is the advantage of being the only ones there for the print demonstrations. For the most part, we had the place mostly to ourselves all day. This is good for the visit, but hopefully not too bad for the survival of the museum.

Next it was on to the Indian village where we learned about the Yaocomaco, the native people of the land. They welcomed the new English settlers and even rented there lodgings to them while they built thier houses. Next we took about a half mile drive to the Godiah Spray tobacco plantation. Godiah Spray was quite well off by colonial Maryland standards and the museum has recreated his home and two outbuildings. They also have pigs, cows, and chickens at the plantation, as well as tobacco fields and a herb garden. The costumed interpreters here were fantastic, as they were throughout the museum. The three that were at the Spray plantation when we were there were all portraying indentured servants. We ended our day at the visitors center/museum where there were many 17th century artifacts on display that were found during archaeological digs around the  site.

I am so glad that I finally went to Historic St. Mary's City, although somewhat ashamed it took me so long to get there. It won't be my last trip. If any of you are within an hour or so of the site, it is well worth your time to visit. They have done a great job recreating the building there and the costumed interpreters are friendly and knowledgable. There was even a jointer there, although he disappeared for lunch before I got a chance to talk to him.

Inside the State House.

Wainscot chair

Joined Chest in the State House.

Gate leg table and chairs.

Casey, apparently cool with being in the stocks.

Gillian, looking pretty guilty. Bring on the rotten fruit and vegetables.

The Maryland Dove.

The Captain's quarters.

Beautiful views along the banks of the St. Mary's river.

The print house.

Casey inking the type set.

Gillian operating the "devil's tail".

One of the lodgings at the Yaocomaco site.

Inside the long house.

One of the dwellings in town center.


Joined chest at the Spray plantation.

Another chest and wainscot chair at the Spray plantation.