Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beaming About Benches

I am too poor and unfortunate a man to be included in the great bench building ventures of our time. Namely the French Oak Roubo Project (FORP) which is now in the start up of its second iteration while I jealously watch from the digital sidelines.

For, at least the last year I have been seriously weighing my options when it comes to building a new work bench. I built my current bench at a transition point in my life. Tired of tooling around learning how to do a little of this and a little of that, I decided I would focus my creative endeavors on woodworking, something I had played with and enjoyed, but now set forth to attempt to master.

The inspiration, Chris Schwarz's take on the Nicholson Bench

At this time I also started blogging about my work and time in the shop. At the time I thought this was a unique idea (little did I know what I was getting myself into) My current bench, a hybrid idea between the Nicholson Workbench Chris Schwarz shows in his original blue workbench book and a bench he built called "The $175 Workbench". Made from pine with a laminated 2X4 top.

The original, just finished circa summer 2009.
Time rolls. Lessons become knowledge. You know you can do better. I've made modifications.

My bench as it sits today, in my perfect little corner of the world. 
I upgraded/replaced the leg vise chop when it broke, and added a rail of holdfast holes to the underside and a cheep inset planing stop the raises and lowers with a thumbscrew.

The problems?

I knew we were going to move after I built the bench, so in my naivete I didn't make the connection between the legs and the bench top very solid. In fact the legs are slanted boxes that attach to the top with lag bolts and the bottom shelf with carriage bolts. Not exactly bomb proof joinery. So the bench racks a bit when planing. I solved that by screwing it to the wall!

The second and larger problem. The top has warped over time and not just a little bit. Enough so planing it flat is less than feasible to it's survival. It's not that I can't work on it, and can't work around it. handling long stock is the only real time its a big issue. Mostly I'm just tired of settling and working around the issues included in something I could have, should have done better.

So I've been pining for a second chance, a new bench with no compromises, but finding the right materials is the tricky part. The combination of patience and fate has delivered the materials to my doorstep.

The new workbench in its infancy. 

A week and a half ago, some folks I know dropped me a line, they had an old barn they had to burn down because they were selling the property it was on. As an after thought they thought I might like to salvage some material from it. If I'd had a few months time I'd have salvaged every usable stick, as it stood I had a one day window. I called a buddy and we went and got some beams.

I believe they are some softwood variety, which is fine with me. The big beam in front is a little more than 8x8 square. It will be the legs. The three thinner beams are around 4x8. Those will be edge joined together to make the top. They all come out to about 12 foot 4 inches long.

That means when I'm finished, unless I find something punky or bad. I have a chance at a workbench 12 feet in length and a little less than 24 inches wide.

A close up of the row of benches show in Roubo's infamous plate 11 etching. 

That should work just fine. It'll mean rearranging the shop something fierce, but it will be a nice problem to have.

I've got a lot of nails to pull today and then the beams are going to have to wait for a little while. Maybe even the whole winter long, but soon I'll be starting and there will be no compromises this time.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dammit!

A while back I carved a long panel with "S" scrolls. I didn't know what to do with it per say. So I simply hauled it around to my carving demos as an example.

Recently someone who I hope will turn into a benefactor and long term client expressed interest in owning the panel after I "finished it up a bit". 

I will be seeing them again at the end of this month and I thought I'd make a simple walnut frame and a little natural Danish oil to "finish" it. 

I built most of the frame yesterday and decided to join it with pocket screws today. Everything was going swimmingly until I went to attach the last side. 

Oops!



I drilled the damn holes on the wrong side of the frame. In one corner. Bonehead rookie mistake. 

All I could do was laugh at myself. 

And I don't think I have any more of this thicker walnut stock left. 

I can't hide these holes with plugs. That'd look like hammered crap. 

Guess it's back to the drawing board for a while. 

I'll come up with something. 

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Misplaced My Mojo.

I feel like I misplaced my workshop mojo. Not because I'm burnt out, that's a different feeling, Not because I don't have anything to build, I have projects piled up to the rafters. And definitely not because I've been injured, ill, or in legal trouble of any kind.

August was simply an insanely busy month for us. Good, but chaotic. We had birthdays for two of our three daughters. The annual Midsummer's Feast with my medieval Reenactment Group (hands down the finest meal I eat every year) My in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party we planned. And to put a cherry on top on the last day of the month, I had a lecture and presentation with my best friend and medieval combat buddy, Thom Peters, .

Thom and I armored up for a combat demonstration earlier this year.

The show was called "Armor Up; A Real World Guide to Wearing Medieval Armor" and it was held at the Castlerock Arms and Armor Museum in Alma Wisconsin.

I'm part of several presentations every year on medieval weapons and armor, most of those are at best, semi-off the cuff, and often before roughly gathered crowds in parks and at fairs. This was a formal presentation at a museum, attended by people familiar with the subject and know what they're talking about, and surrounded by actual historic examples of the very items we're referring to.

I haven't given a formal, PowerPoint style lecture since I left teaching in 2008 to return to work at the hospital. That's more than six years.


A little out of practice, a prestigious setting, and did I mention it was a sold out to standing room crowd. I was a little nervous heading in.


After things got rolling, and I managed to get a few laughs from the terrifically generous crowd, I settled down, like I knew I would.


We introduced ourselves, dispelled a handful of popular myths about armor, then we went over the armor pieces worn between the 10th and 13th century, what they protect, how they fit into the over all scheme, and what can go wrong while wearing them for combat.

Then we showed them how long it takes to armor up both a common soldier and a knight in real time. The answer, three minutes for a common foot soldier to ready himself, and 27 minutes for the knight, with two inexperienced volunteer squires helping.


The whole event was well received by the attendees, the museum owner and the museum staff. The best possible outcome. Especially since I have two more presentations there upcoming this year.

At the end of this month, September 28th, I will be teaming with Master Blacksmith Thomas Latane and blacksmith/woodworker Paul Nyborg in a demonstration called Forest to Furniture. Where we will show the process involved taking a tree, riving and hewing it down to stock, smoothing and joining that stock into furniture, and then carving and finishing a piece.

Then at the end of November, the 30th, I will be doing a presentation on the Furniture of the Maciejowski Bible. Work I'm hip deep in deciphering at the moment. I'm a little more nervous about this one than I should be. The chaos of this summer and August in particular have put me well behind my schedule, but what will be will be and I will be ready to talk about the research I've completed, the direction's I've had to look, and the various threads I've had to string together thus far.

If you've got a chance and are in the area, swing by the museum on one of these dates and say hi.

Now it's time for me to get my butt back into the shop. Papa's gotta get his mojo back.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Back To The . . . Whatever.

By most people's definitions, my wife and I are both trained artists. Our relationship started in the art room of what used to be, a progressive looking high school that paid a lot of attention to art and technology classes. (Sadly I know this is not the case any longer) Together and apart, we've taken more formal "art" classes than most people who graduate with an "art" major. 

It seeps into my woodworking some, but truthfully neither of us have made much use of this training other than raising our girls. We've consciously tried to bring them up to be imaginative creators and makers with pragmatic roots. There is a lot of drawing, painting, and sewing that goes on in my home. The sense of this has ramped up recently as I've been more visibly drawing myself Sitting at the drafting table, doing illustrations of joinery and other concepts to accompany the book I'm working on. 

You can read more about it HERE

My activity has seemed to spur more drawing activity by the girls, and some light arguing about who gets to use the Drawing Board. Our portable drawing board is 24" x 30" edge glued maple boards with oaken breadboard ends and a handle screwed to one side. It's a holdover from our art room days and we only have the one. One board and three daughters is problematic. 

The old soldier drawing board. It's been around a while.
Two of the three girls had birthdays coming up, we purchased new sketchbooks, drawing pencils, and kneaded erasers and I built some new drawing boards. One for each, including the non birthday girl. 

I picked up a section of 1/2" sanded plywood from the box store. Searching through the pile I actually found a show face that had a some curly figure to the grain. Back at the shop I cut the ply into three blanks 17 1/2" x 11 1/2", then I used the table saw to cut 1/4" x 1/2" rabbets all around the border. 


I ripped down some 1" thick black walnut into 1 1/4" wide pieces. planed them flat and smooth and plowed grooves to accept the lip of the plywood'e rabbet. 


I mitered and fitted the walnut into frames around the plywood. glue into the plowed grooves and some finishing brads to hold the frames in place. 


You may wonder why I used 1" thick frames and 1/2" ply. In essence the rabbet acts as a bare faced tenon and provides more strength to the joint, but it also leaves a slightly less than 1/2" recess in the back of the boards. With a couple of wide rubber bands,(a common accessory to drawing boards) they can easily place a sketchbook and maybe a tin of pencils in the recess and carry the whole thing by the handle where ever they want. 


I finished the boards with danish oil and a light furniture polishing wax and added a single screen door handle to one side. 

A fun little weekend style project that my girls will use for many years. How much better does it get. 

Just one more decent sized shop distraction to handle and I can get back to the medieval furniture I've immersed myself in lately. 

Ratione et Passionis.
Oldwolf

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Spooned To Distraction.

I could have a hundred things to work on in the shop, deadlines hanging over my head (self imposed and otherwise) and none of that will matter when I find the right distraction. For the last few weeks it's been spoons.

When I went out to the woods with some friends a couple weekends ago and came back with half a cherry log hewn down for a bench, I brought two quarters of the end of that log about 18" long home as well. I told the guys I was gonna make spoons. 

Then I had an event last weekend I was supposed to demo carving at, but I didn't have the time or space to prep and load my carving set up. So I punted, rived a couple blanks from one of the cherry quarters, and packed what I needed to carve spoons. 

I haven't done a lot of spoon making in the past. One sucess and several failed attempts. But it is a lot of fun in a challenging in a very immediate "workmanship of risk" kind of way, but it's also relaxing and somewhat social way of working.  

When I'm working in my shop, most of the time it's a solitary endeavor. Last night instead of being alone in the shop I sat with my family in the living room, carved on a spoon blank I'd started earlier that day, and watched a movie. 

A little bit revolutionary.












I'm still finding my feet and getting a feel for it. I've joined a couple spoon carving. / green woodworking groups on Facebook to get a feel for how others work and what their stuff looks like. 

This morning I rived a dozen more cherry blanks. I'm going to quickly rough them out and keep them and a couple tools in a box by my chair, in the living room. Now I'll have something to do with my hands in the evening. 

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hewing Day

I received an email from a friend earlier this month. Tom Latane was interested in gathering a small group of like-minded folks to spend a day hewing wood with adzes. How do you say no to that?

So two weeks ago, on a cloudy, slightly stormy Saturday morning I gathered a couple axes, wedges, and a thermos of coffee and drove to Tom's shop in Pepin Wisconsin and met the two other gentlemen who decided to join us that day. From there it was a quick drive to the small parcel of woods Tom owns outside the town.


We started by busting apart a cherry log for a couple of us to share. I always fin this to be great fun and super satisfying. Then we all got to work with adzes, each on our own individual logs.


I've never found an adze in what I considered good enough shape to buy it so I had no real experience using one. The concept of swinging a horizontal axe blade in the vicinity of your lower legs and feet flies in the face of the modern, child-proof bottle cap, safety-litigation-congregation's standards. But like anything you have to be smart and keep your head in the game. Pay attention to what's safe and what's not as you're working, think through your actions before you take a swing, and you're fine.

The nice thing is the other guys all brought a nice variety of adze styles along and I took a bit of time with all of them, getting a feel for what I liked and didn't.


While the three of us worked, flattening slabs for benches. Tom worked hewing round logs square for timber framing.


It rained on and off at times, which was refreshing though we didn't get very wet at all under the heavy tree canopy.


When the day was finished I had a new blister and a cherry slab about 3" thick 15" wide on the top side, and a little over 3' long. We all loaded up and took off. The next day I was exhausted, with sore muscles I'd long forgotten I owned, but I still managed to waddle out to the shop and work on the slab some more.

I started by planing the bottom completely flat. I use metal bodied Stanley planes in most of my work, but I find for green work like this, a wooden body plane is superior in feel and function.


With the bottom set, I ran a marking gauge over the ends and snapped some chalk lines to get a uniform thickness to the top. The slab is giving me about 2 1/2". I took a hewing axe and brought the thickness down close, then planed some of the roughness away. I didn't bother getting carried away because I want to give the seat a dish out, like a Windsor chair seat.


I did some dishing, then set the slab aside. I have lots of other work and can't eat the distraction for more than a weekend right now and the slab needs to season a little before I work it some more. I have these visions in my mind of a cross between a Windsor and a Norwegian Sengebenk.

We'll see how that works out.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If I Were a Joiner . . .

Peter Follansbee, an artisan I distinctly look up to and respect, has decided to leave his job as the joiner at Plimoth Plantation. It's sad to me that I will never get the chance to see him in action there. It's exciting to me to think this means he will be teaching more classes and I will have an increased chance to attend one.

The fact that Peter is leaving isn't news. There are rumors that Plimoth Plantation didn't plan to replace him, Chris wrote about this in a post on his blog, but down at the bottom of the comments in that post is a comment by a Sarah MacDonald, that states the organization is updating the job description and expanding the diversity of its craftspeople. (There is no updated job posting for a joiner as of today)

This all gives me pause for thought. What if I were to be hired for the job? I certainly would meet some of the qualifications

I have spent several years developing competency with hand tools in woodworking in general and with working freshly riven, green wood more recently. I can take a fallen tree and turn it into a finished piece of furniture.

I have developed a love for the furniture and construction styles of the 17th century. I have been working on the carving aspect of the craft for several years and it's a very comfortable, natural style for me now.

My most recent carved interpretation. Walnut carved box sides. I haven't finished the till, lid, or bottom yet. 
I have some decent experience demonstrating in front of crowds, often under the guise of medieval historical reenactment. I have demoed for rowdy crowds at medieval faires and festivals, and for fundraising events at libraries and museums.


And I have experience as an lecturer and educator, I spent two years teaching Surgical Technology and Central Service Technology at Western Technical College, before deciding to return to the field. And my work has been published in a major woodworking publication.

Ok . . .  so do I have the job?

Several things will keep me from even applying if the job is posted. Not the least of which is the need to relocate. It is definitely not the right time in our lives to take on another adventure like that. Not for a while.

But the job is still fun to think about, like the "What would I do if I won the lottery?" question. Though the approach that comes across my mind is "What would I do differently?"

Peter is am inspiration to me, I've never managed to come up with a good reason to correspond with him outside of the abject hero workshop and fawning praise of an unapologetic fan boy. But if I were to trip, fall, and land in the job, I would want to make it my own. Standing on the shoulders of giants to see further is more noble than repeating what has been done before in a cookie cutter fashion.

I would certainly have a lot to learn in the job, that would be most of the fun.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf