It is important to always keep a hand on that auxiliary handle on the side of the drill. I am going to need more cowbell there.
I made my first chair. There is much to be improved upon but the joints went to together pretty tight seemingly so that is something. I paid about a dollar or two for the wood of this chair. The seat is made of quarter swan white oak that I took from barn a while ago. The legs are ash from the lumberyard scrap shelf. Same for the white oak sticks. The cherry or backrest is the most well travelled part and it comes from Northern Michigan. We were camping in Charlevoix, Michigan and there was a dying cherry tree. I asked the camp host if I could cut a piece of dead fall ash near the campsite and he told me I could take some of the dead cherry tree as well if I wanted. I made him a spoon out of some of the ash. Before we left there I cut off a couple pieces of the larger branches that were curved. That became the back for this chair. That is sloyd.
I want to make more chairs. It would be awesome to take a class on chairmaking from someone who makes stick chairs but that is not in play for a little while yet. So in the meantime it is books (specifically The Stick ChairBook by Christopher Schwarz, and Good Work by Chris Williams), Instagram, and various Youtube videos (the ones by Curtis Buchanan, a Windsor chair maker, are particularly helpful).
The staked method is an exciting way of building furniture. You drill, ream (if you want to), or not, put a stick through the resulting hole and then wedge it in place from the top. Do this three or four or five or six times on a plank of wood and baby, you got yourself a stool, chair, table, bench, etc. There is a little more to it but that is the jist. Now making comfortable chairs that can be sat upon for long stretches of time is another thing and that is where I hope to end up in time. There are no real hard fast rules in this form of furniture making as far as style and design. It lends itself well to taking parts from the forest and letting nature guide the design. You can go to the lumberyard, sawmill, or big box store and put together a lovely set of components. The possibilities are endless. Onward. I am going to make a couple of staked arm chairs next, I think. Below are a few more picks of the Two Bits Chair. As anyone who has ever heard me talk about woodworking knows, I can’t speak more than two or three sentences on the topic without saying the word chamfer. I love the humble chamfer. That’s why I put a couple on the front edge with a chisel.
One of the common sayings in the woodworking community is “get out there and make some shavings” if you use hand tools or “get out there and make some sawdust” if you use machines. In my case it is both ways a lot of days though I enjoy my time more if I am using hand tools and doing a traditional task of whatever sort. Anyways the point is that you don’t even have to make anything to enjoy the benefits of woodworking. What do I mean? I mean go ahead and make some shavings with no end goal even in mind. This can take several different forms and either cost a couple hundred dollars to get started or twenty dollars whatever is preferred or whatever the reality is depending on circumstances.
If you want to take the inexpensive route get a Stanley utility knife or a Stanley utility pocket knife and a block of wood maybe pine because it is soft with no knots in it and start taking the corners off cutting away from yourself of course. Figure out which direction the wood cuts smoothest. When the blade dulls you can change it out for another one or get an inexpensive sharpening stone or sandpaper on a block of wood or something flat and sharpen it. You might accidentally carve a spoon. Get one of your small table spoons and trace it on the block of wood then start carving down to the line.
Go to the big box store or hardware store of your choice (I like the green one) go to the handtoools area where they keep the chisels and get the Stanley block plane. It is red. Get some short blocks of wood to take home with you maybe one to two feet in length. If you don’t have a workbench no problem. Sit on the floor and hold one of the pieces between your feet. This is how a lot of cultures around the world work and make fine things. Take the plane out of the box and make the blade protrude just a little bit. Try to make it straight but don’t worry about it too much. Start taking the sharp corners off the piece of wood. Turn the plane different ways as you plane. See how it cuts best. Turn the block of wood around to figure out which way the wood grain cuts best. The plane will cut the corners off right out of the box. You are making yourself some clean firestarter. Burning newspaper is kinda nasty. Bag it up and save it. Feel the shavings in your hands. Sharpening will be required however if you want to learn to make a straight edge though. It is worth learning because that will make the act of planing even more of a pleasure.
Alternately go to Lee Valley Tools or Lie Nielsen or even Garrett Wade and get some better tools than what is offered at the hardware. Don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer number of tools. Start with the basics and go from there. The point is to have fun and feel the shavings and the texture of the wood that you are working with. A lot of people who do woodworking professionally never take the time to discover the essence of the material they are working with. I am suggesting hand tools here because the barrier to entry is lower not because they are superior. I am saying all of this because it does not take much to get started and you will progress to whatever stage you want to from here. Peace
Here I am edge planing a defect away before I glue up this table top.
It came time to work on the table today and I just did not have it going on. I am sure I am not the only one to ever have this happen. Sometimes I can go into the shop turn on the lights and get rolling or fake it til I make it or something. Today I had nothing. So I decided to begin carving a snowman based on Olaf from the Disney movie. You know the one set in the icy north. Actually we watched the 2nd film of the series on Sunday which was my favorite movie ever by the Disney I think. Pretty good. It was Roya’s birthday on Sunday and she turned four. It was a good day with presents good food and family. Then on Monday I was able to spend the morning with her and instead of hauling loads of fire wood or me going out to the shop while she played we sat and read books by the woodstove and I drank a bunch of rounds of chai. She requested we read Grandpa’s Workshop.
Grandpa’s Workshop is a beautifully illustrated kids book by the Lost Art Press outfit. It follows a few days in the life of French joiner and carpenter Pepere Grosbois who spends some days in the shop with his grand son Sylvain who is visiting. Pepere “knows how to hammer-saw-plane-rasp-sand-drill-hew-carve. He builds furniture, doors, windows, and TOYS.” Pepere’s tools have stories and he tells these to Sylvain on breaks from his work. There are elves, dragons, journeys by ship, mule, and delivery truck. There is a dream where the elves tell Sylvain the story of one of the tools which he relays to Pepere the next day. Sylvains curiosity takes him to a dark corner of the shop one morning where he finds an old tool box, which belonged to Pepe Clothaire. Pepere shows him each tool inside and one that he got with it that did not fit inside called a besaigue, which is the most befuddling tool I can think of. It is a long piece of iron and one end has something like a slick chisel and the other end has a mortise chisel. There is a handle coming out perpendicular to it into which a longer wooden handle could theoretically be attached. I can’t imagine the utility of this tool. It seems you want a mallet for the mortise end to be properly utilized but there is no where to hit it. You can use the slick chisel end but that mortise chisel sticking up seems a hazard. I think I will stick with two separate tools one for each purpose unless someone can convince me otherwise. Probably it would take a French person to do that.
I think I would fight a dragon with this thing…maybe.
Anyways, this is a really good book though I kind of edited the story of the broken hammer from Clothier’s old tool chest where one Grosbois brother bludgeons the other with it. Little too violent for my taste there, little too Cain and Abel, but I still recommend the book overall. The stories are told so well it will definitely hold up to many readings and Sylvain is so curious in the book that I think kids feed off that curiosity. Every time through one will notice something different. So I look forward to more children’s stories from the company including one upcoming about an oak tree in Wales. I will surely get that book and review it here.
So today I found myself in a failure to launch scenario so I started carving one of the greatest animated characters who never lived but lives in our hearts and imaginations, Olaf, the wise and unpredictable. As I worked I started to feel better and I think I can see my path forward again. When I finish the little guy I will post something about it here. Until next time my friends, stay safe, stay together in a spinning time.
I haven’t written anything on this blog for a while. But this morning I find myself locked out of my shop and waiting until the lady of the house, the queen of my double wide trailer metaphorically speaking, gets home around two with a spare set of keys so I can get back in. And so I thought why not write something and post it? Or will this one end up with the rest of the stack of drafts that I have written and not published? We shall see. At the beginning of the pandemic I thought that I would write more on here. Instead I found myself during the lockdown honing my spoon making skills and ended up making more spoons than I ever had before. I got quite a bit faster at it too. To the point where I can carve one out in a morning if I am really getting after it, which I rarely am.
I also spent time this year fixing some antique chairs for a friend as my end of a trade for his wood stove that he did not need anymore because of moving. One chair was a simple fix of reinforcing the undercarriage. But the other two chairs took me four months to complete. It is hard to explain why it took me that long to complete these chairs. I despaired at times of ever being able to complete them. In the end they turned out well and the process helped me realize that I really want to make stick chairs. I hope to be sharing more on this in the months to come as I venture into this area of the craft.
So what draws me to chair making? I don’t know exactly. Something does. I like that it is different from square work. I like that in the stick chair and other vernacular forms as well there is the possibility of gathering materials from the forest. I love getting out into the woods and working there. Even the hum of the chainsaw does not take that enjoyment away. I love finding a stump and carving a spoon out there among the trees, especially this time of year when the light is so clear and bright and the rays are poking through the canopy. Trees make me feel good in my brain.
What else. Well I was extremely disappointed when I got myself wound up and submitted a proposal for a grant to research the history of the Dutch Pullout Table. That is not a form of birth control. It is a form of table but it often draws a chuckle when I say it. Hell I even still chuckle when I say it. I am chuckling right now. To keep from crying when I think about how I missed on that grant. There was a lot of competition and two very worthy souls had their grants accepted. One to study Taiwanese plane making and the other to study vernacular violin making in Nova Scotia. Pretty cool. Yeah looking back my proposal did not stand a chance especially given that it could easily be mistaken for an ill-fated form of birth control. So I said to myself I am going to make the &*%$ing table anyways. Maybe this year maybe next I will be building a Dutch Pullout and surrounding it with stick chairs. Before I can devote my time to chairs though I must finish this front door I am working on for someone else and build a table for my niece. A black walnut table. It’ll be nice and it is a project I am looking forward to. And I am trying my level best to get it done by Thanksgiving. Did I mention that I stay at home with our three year old? The time skies have opened a little bit because she goes to preschool two days a week for three hours each day which might not seem like a lot but to a drowning man it is a lifeboat. Also as she gets older it is easier for her to find stuff to occupy herself while I work on projects. Sometimes she joins me in the shop which I gotta say is every bit as hella cute as it sounds. She is my DJ during those times iPod touch in hand (yes I still use and iPod touch and an iPod classic as well, and a cassette player in my pickup truck, and cds in our van. All the mediums except streaming).
I recently made a cross out ash for an Anglican Church. A cross with a base into which it can be placed to stand upright. While the last remnants of my Christian faith at least in the American Conservative Evangelical form that I grew up with disappeared into the ether sometime around 2013, give or take ten years, I enjoy making crosses and it seems I get asked to make them and I make them well I think. This latest one has an octagon at the center of it which is a symbol of rebirth and regeneration in Christianity as well as a passel of other religious traditions. I think we can all use a daily dose of that among it all.
I taught a spoon making class this past Saturday, my first time doing so. I forgot to take pictures during setting up and during the course so this will be a words only post.
I got up kinda early on Friday at 5:30 to work on the staked carving benches I was building for the spoon making class. I made all the legs for my carving benches out of oak, 16 legs in all. I was cutting tapers on the ends of all the legs, and those would go into a matching component in the slabs which would be drilled and reamed to receive the legs. I had a slab of ash, and two of maple: I cut four extras to maybe use for a chair I want to build.
At 7:10 (or so) I went inside to help get the kids ready for school and Grandmas house respectively. I made coffee and ate breakfast with my family. What a lovely, funny, entertaining time these breakfasts are. After breakfast I went out to let the chickens out and Janell took Odetta to school. After they left I kept getting ready to take Roya to Grandma’s house and played a game of memory with her. We usually do a game or a puzzle before we go. We left around 8 30 to make the 22 minute drive. After a good bye hug from Roya I came back home to continue making those legs. I went back into the shop, put on some music, and discovered that if I put a little grapeseed oil in the cutter every now and then I really made the process go a lot faster and easier. The cutter is basically a really big pencil sharpener stuck into a vise. So I turn the leg in the cutter then take it out and see where I have to take off more material with the block plane until I have a taper all that fills up the cutter. This will get faster over time I think.
At ten til one I was finishing up the last of the legs and now it was time to go pick up Odetta from kindergarten. It was a beautiful fall day, the sun was shining and the leaves were turning on the maples that line our yard. Maples are one of my favorite fall trees. We have one that turns yellow and one that turns red. They are quite old and large and really give us a lot of shade in the summer plus beauty in the fall. I took along the book I am reading (Small is Beautiful, Economics as If People Mattered, by E.F. Schumacher) since there is usually a bit of a wait until they walk the kids out. Odetta was carrying a bag of stuff she got at school for fall break and she was excited but told me I had to wait until we got home to see what was in it. Sure. These days she wants to listen to “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton on the way home from school. Go figure. Its one of the catchiest songs of all time so I won’t complain. We have it burned onto a cd that we labelled Truckin’ songs which I made for Janell a long time ago when we were mere lads in a different time when people burned music onto cds, before we were babies having babies. I hung out with Odetta and we did dishes together while listening to some Todd Snider. Janell got home, one of us made some coffee, and she went to pick up Roya.
I headed back into the shop and by now I was able to start drilling holes in the slabs to put legs on them. I was doing that when my cordless drill stopped working. I discovered that my electric drill did not take the bit I was using (it needs a half inch chuck). This is when I played the country song in my mind “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave me Lucille,” and headed out in the truck to get a different drill. I went to Habitat for Humanity and came up empty. I went to an antique store twenty minutes away where I knew they have a tool booth that sells refurbished power tools. They had an old red brand name drill there (not the beer though I needed one at that point) which I examined feeling very hopeful. Nope. Three eighths chuck not the half inch I needed. Nice drill though. So I headed back toward my house with the intent of hitting the big box on the way. I settled on a ten amp yellow name brand with a hammering option (I find it handy and I might as well have it all in one drill I suppose.)
Back at the shop it was supper time so I sat down with the family. Janell offered to do bedtime that night and I would take it the next night. So I went back out and finished drilling the holes. I discovered that my cordless drill that had set me on that earlier adventure was working again so whatever, man. I thought it was done fer. I guess it just overheated and needed a break. The new drill would still be nice to drive the reamer which I guess needs a lot of torque and causes 8 year old cordless drills to overheat. Moral of this episode is…always get the half inch chuck.
I finished up the slabs and headed in for some sleep. I would get up early and finish setting up for the class.
I had a hard time recently deciding what woodworking project I needed to start on next. As I thought about it I started on a chair seat.
So this will turn into a chair someday, but it is on hold for now because talking with my partner in crime we settled on a choice between a record consul or a pantry cabinet. As the pantry cabinet will involve just taking out an upper cabinet and making it deeper then combining it to the base cabinet by building a cabinet to fill in the gap (a lot of plywood work and not very exciting; I chose the record console. So these are projects I need to do before we take out the wall between our kitchen and living room to have room for a wood stove where the wall now is.
Here are a couple of pictures of the process of cutting out and making the various panels that will become the carcasse to house our record albums and record player.
The outside is going to be black walnut and the bottom and inside will be out of yellow pine. I think its going to turn out well. I bought a bunch of walnut about three years ago from a guy’s barn and it all was from one tree so I have easily book matched pieces to use for the sides and top. I have a lot of planing ahead of me one of my favorite parts of the process.
The new workbench is working out great. I have no complaints at all. There is no rack in it. It can do any job I throw at it I am sure. I am falling in love with this simple approach to working. There is versatility in planing stops, holdfasts, notched battens, and crochets. First the planing stop. I made it out of an old disposable Japanese saw blade and screwed it to a three by three block of ash. Then I mortised through the bench to house it and I can knock it down or up with a mallet. Works great for now. Someday I’d like to have a blacksmith made one. My Grammercy holdfasts go through 3/4 inch holes in the side or top of the bench and are knocked on the curved part to cinch down on work. The notched batten or doe’s foot can be seen in the bottom right hand corner of the last picture above. It is my tail vise. They take about two minutes to make from scrap that is laying around. It can be placed quickly anywhere along the length of the bench and is held by a vise grip clamp to the back side of the bench which I left overhang a couple of inches thinking that feature might be useful and it is! The crochet can be seen on the left side here
And in action here.
where I am edge jointing two boards together against it. All of these methods work best when the tools are sharp. Since there are no vises immobilizing the work, I am finding that I get a lot more feedback from the tools like when they need sharpened. It takes some getting used to working this way but I really like it. If I ever do find I need a vise for some reason I have this little bench
Those are pipe clamps through the side of it and they work great. If I ever need I can put a piece in there to work on. All this to say that you can get outfitted with a woodworking bench (about one fifty in wood, thirty for holdfasts) for very little money that will last your whole life and then some. No need to go out and buy the most expensive vises. Tail vises seem unnecessary to me at this point. Face vises are a nice feature but one can get by without them as well.
I first heard of John Prine when listening to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s second Will the Circle Be Unbroken album. Blew my mind at the time and I had to go into the sleeve credits to find out who this raspy voiced singer was. The character in the song is an old-time carpenter and that theme has come to play a huge part in my life in the course of years. As I started collecting records a decade later Copies of John Prine’s albums started showing up in my record chest. I am lucky because when I picked them up I did not pay much for them anywhere from a dollar to eight dollars. As the twenty tens went on, he gained in popularity with a new generation of listeners including me and a group of close friends as well as more and more up and coming musicians in the alt-country and folk scenes. Those artists will keep John’s spirit going I am sure; Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, The Felice Brothers, Shovels and Rope, Hiss Golden Messenger, Kacey Musgraves, and many others. May he rest in peace.
I finished building a new work bench recently.
It is almost twelve feet long and is made of old white oak barn beams for the legs and yellow pine for the top and skirt board. I got the plan for this bench from theenglishwoodworker.com, which is run by the furniture maker Richard Maguire. No vises for now. I am going to build a few projects on it first and see what kind if any face vise I might want to put on. A tail vise will not be required, not when the notched batten or doe’s foot works so well and is easily made fro scrap you have sitting around. I can already say after having planed a few things on the new bench that I can get used to working without a face vise I think. Using the crochet allows you to pull the work out quickly, check it for straight, and put it back quickly for more planing if needed. As I move forward in this craft I am in search of a no frills approach to building. The point of this bench is to allow me to work on large doors, tables, windows and long casework if needed. It is going to be a pleasure to build things on here for the next however long. I do not anticipate needing another one but you never know.
I want to learn how to make chairs, specifically welsh stick chairs. I am working on the seat to my first one right now and am ready to make the legs and back. I will be posting more about my chair journey soon I think, and I hope to start posting more here after a long hiatus. Thats all for now.
Yesterday Odetta and I were building tiny towers with her wooden blocks. Stacking and restacking in a hurry to build them before Roya who is 9 months old could come and knock them over. I singled out a particularly pretty poplar block with an interesting grain pattern. I pointed it out to Odetta, who is three, to study closer. “It goes swoosh!” She said excitedly. Indeed the grain did go swoosh proceeding out from a knot in the corner in a sunburst pattern of alternating dark and light browns.
This is part of what I will call phase two of my woodworking vision quest, which is to say working and studying woodworking at home around and with my children. This is one of the things that draws me to working with handtools. They can be with me as I am working sometimes and it is ok. It seems they will be while I am building stuff more and more as they grow older in a way they couldn’t if I had primarily machines. I sometimes have to tell Odetta she can’t go into the shop with me when I have to run some stock through the table saw machine. Then I have a disappointed girl.
This thing of being at home building furniture for our house is something I very much look forward to. Some of the projects I have coming up are a cabinet for our record collection, a table and chairs for our dining room, wooden brackets to hold the curtain rod I made, a pair of low couches and a folding table for the front porch with a couple end tables to go with it. So yeah I have my work cut out for me. I will share the process with these as I work.
Putting your hands to a piece of work is a good thing. It is a centering thing. May we all find work to do that puts us at peace with ourselves and the world around us. Peace out.
I have to admit that I am a homebody. There is no place that i want to be more than our little 1890’s farmhouse. I think all four of us feel that way. Our girls love being there. Me and Janell love being there. I love the rhododendron bush that blooms in May. I love the Sweet Pea flowers that pop up at random spots on the property. They look like orchids. A friend had to point out to me that they were infact sweet peas. i think they must be in the orchid family. Up pop the nasty weed trees out comes the mattock to dig them out of the earth. Within three to five years the grass we have to mow on our two city lots will be reduced primarily to a twenty by twenty patch in the backyard hopefully. I have a strong aversion to mowing grass. I love clover and moss (I wish we could have a yard full of moss but it only comes up in the front mostly. The other day I showed Odetta the beautiful texture of the moss). I love the soft textured purplish wide-leaved stuff that comes up in the back yard. Grass is blah. Your ass is Grass. Thats an awesome phrase. That is what I say to those little green pests that require an hour and a half of my time every week!
I want to hash out my woodworking vision in this space over the course of the next few posts. This is going to be a difficult thing for me to do. It is growing. This vision affects not just me but also my family as it is my desire to eventually spend my working time building furniture, cabinets, doing some carpentry, and teaching woodwoorking so I must approach it reverently and carefully. But whether I ever make a damn cent from woodworking or carpentry ever again I will always always always be doing it.
That brings me to phase one. I want to fill our house with stuff I built. We have some stuff now in use that I have made. A crib for Roya, some various other things as well. I have a growing list of things to build for our home along with a list of home improvement type projects to do none of which involves tearing out walls or the term ‘open concept.” My next post will deal specifically with these ideas I have to fill our house with furniture built right on our property, some of it in the ten by ten porch room on the front of the house which manages to stay above freezing for the winter unlike the garage where my bigger workbench is which I have not had time to winterize yet.
This is a portable workbench I built. It is a low workbench (only twenty two inches). I love this little thing. I got the idea from Christopher Swartz and Lost Art Press’s book IngeniousMeckaniks which I got for Father’s Day. In the pictures I am working on the window sills for the Goshen Youth Arts Center which are for the inside of the window I showed pictures of in the previous post. In the last picture I ripped a board by standing on the work bench during the course of a ten minute song by the band The War on Drugs. The possibilties are endless for this versatile little workbench.
(I am thinking this to be a good maxim to live by these days. It is a lot of fun to come up with ways of working that are your own, and a toolkit that is your own. They are never quite your own really but in your time and your space you own these ways. What the hell am I talking about? I am thinking use the things around you that you have. You can build a piece of furniture with a hatchet. There are people in Romania who still do it like that. Probably some people here who do it too. I am thinking that I do not need to run off to the hardware store or Ebay every time I hit a snag when I am working or fall into the trap of believing that if I just had the next tool my work would be better off. Not saying that new tools are never needed.)
I wrote the first paragraph of this post like two years ago. We had another kid in that time. Named her Roya. Odetta grew in that time. She is a wonderfully independent young child. Used to like to hang with me in the shop. Currently she likes to hang with her mother while the evening meal is made. Sits on the counter and asks her what all the things are. All the things. It is awesome. I love the phases of life. Embrace them. I am trying to understand the ebbs and flows. All the tryings and failings the rhythms. There is hardly anthing I can wrap my head around including woodworking.
This is a thing I finished in the time since last i wrote. Currently I am working on the inside of this window, making the trim moldings from scratch and reusing some of what we tore off. I will have pictures of that in the next post. I am taking a week off the old day job to install that. Hopefully I can get it done because I have a lot of projects I wanna do. Maybe I will come up with a list of those and share them or something.
The next phase of my woodworking life is going to see me concentrating on our house, building furniture, doing the place up proper like, and generally focusing inward. I am not at the place where I can do woodworking full time and but I will get there I think and I hope that I will enjoy that time all the more for the struggle of getting there. I hope that dream becomes reality someday. Peace out.