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I want a camera that can survive a 3 foot fall off of my workbench. Well technically, 3 feet 1 1/8" depending upon where I measure it. Taking pics with the camera that just went south on me wasn't the problem. Having it fail the bounce test 3 times was. After this last lost to Mr. Concrete Floor I have been evaluating what I need and want in a new camera.
I asked Bob (the Valley Woodworker) because I know he collects cameras and he gave me a couple of good suggestions. Brian Eve said his Olympus TG-3 was a good shop camera. (I checked those specs and I was impressed with them) The TaDaMan left a link for KEH.com which looked pretty good but every camera I checked/wanted was out of stock. I need a replacement camera sooner than later.
So want do I think I need? A camera without a retractable lens system. The loser camera has a retractable lens system. No more needs to be said on that. Secondly, a camera that does not use AA or AAA batteries. Here I don't mind buying extra 'special' battery packs. I bought a AA charger and rechargeable batteries and I didn't like it. I gave that to my wife. Thirdly, I need a camera that can survive a fall without turning into a paperweight. And lastly, a camera that won't necessitate me remortgaging my house to buy.
So far the Olympus TG models meet 3 of the criteria I am looking for. The newest model is the TG-5 which will shoot 4K video which I don't care about or need. So I can scratch the 5 off the list. I can't find any 'aha' differences between the TG-3 or the TG-4 models. But both the TG-3 and the TG-4 are out of stock at every site I'm checking.. But strangely, some sites have the cost of the TG-3 more then the TG-4.
The Olympus TG-4 has a few capabilities which I know I'll never use (taking pics underwater) but it has one that makes it the leading contender. That one is the shock resistance from a 7 foot fall. Since my workbench is only about 3 feet tall, I would only be using 50% of it. What I don't like about it is the cost which so far is running over $400 on a lot of sites. I have the money saved up but those dollars are earmarked for the new workbench but I may have to divert those funds for this.
|checking for twist|
|the bit I used to waste the interior|
|looks like a standard forstner bit|
|I could have used my largest Stanley bit|
|this one leaves a large radius corner|
|it would not have worked Frank|
|just noticed this|
|this is next|
|the bottom had a hump|
|quick check to make sure I had no twist|
|gluing and screwing the hook on|
|no burn in logo just my initials and the date|
|hook is flush now|
|It's new home|
What is the layer between the the stratosphere and ionosphere?
answer - the mesosphere
With the legs at the ready, I moved on to tackle the seats. The seats are from a construction grade SYP 2×12. When working with construction lumber, you have to really plan ahead and possibly get a little creative in order to end up with something decent. I’m not opposed to having knots in my projects, but the trick is to keep those knots out of the joinery areas. After a little trial and error I hade four usable slabs and a decent piece that may end up as a bench.
Layout is pretty simple and went quickly for all four seats.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve opted for cylindrical 1″ tenons on these stools in lieu of the tapered tenons that I have been using. Why? First, I simply want to try this method to evaluate the difference. Second, when building the table trestles I found that the addition of the stretcher can cause the tapered tenons to be difficult to seat if any outward pressure is introduced by the stretcher.
The process for drilling the holes is the same regardless if they are cylindrical or tapered. So I set a bevel gauge to my resultant angles and drilled the required holes for installing the legs.
With the legs installed, I set a pair of large dividers and marked the locations for the stretchers from the underside of the seat.
I then drilled each of the stretcher mortises with a spade bit and a backer board to keep the spelching at a minimum. I’m making these as through mortises and will wedge all of the joints.
Next up was the front stretchers which meant a little lathe work.
Then the center stretchers and more lathe work.
Soon enough I had all of the joinery for the four stools completed. Note that I added Turks head knots to the front stretchers.
Now I could turn my attention back to the seats and begin their shaping. The shape is pretty basic. A rectangle with the corners clipped. All of the edges will receive a heavy chamfer just as I did with the recent table tops. The idea is that these stools should look like they belong with the tables. They don’t necessarily need to match exactly, but have the same general flavor.
Seats are shaped.
All that is left is assembly and to add my “decorative” embellishments. So I assembled the first stool (glue and wedges), stamped in some texture on the clipped corners and went at it with the wood burner. Finally, the seat received the uzukuri treatment.
Here is the unfinished stool next to one of the tables. Note the color difference that the oils finish imparts.
Well, three more to go and then I’ll trim them all for height and start slathering them with oil.
Part 1 Greg Merritt
Getting some spoon work in, prepping for Greenwood Fest coming up in early June. Cherry crooks are the greatest…so photos with captions.
This is the crook I chose this afternoon – split off 2 chunks above the pith. So the bottom third of this is trash, but the other two will be fine spoons.
Here’s the top one, near the bark. It just about makes itself into a spoon.
After hewing off the bark so I can see the shape better, I hewed a bunch off what will be the top or rim of the spoon bowl.
Slicing across the grain to bring it down to the shape I want.
Starting to define the neck between the bowl and the handle.
This is the one I always call the first chance to completely ruin the spoon. Thankfully it’s only a few minutes into the work. So if it fails now, not much is lost.
Then hewing away some excess off the back of the handle.
With a hard wood like cherry (Prunus serotina) I often mount the hewn shape in the vise, and work with a bent gouge & mallet to rough out the bowl. Working directly across the grain.
here’s the gouge – might be about 1″-1 1/4″ wide, the “sweep” or curve is the #8 in the Swiss marking system.
It’s still very blocky, so the next step will be to hew off the back corners.
I start this cut up in the bowl, and it carries all the way down to the top end of the handle.
It’s hard to read in this photo, but I’ve begun to form a rounded under the bowl.
Then it was time for dinner.
One of the most exciting (and frightening) aspects of building a Windsor-style chair is the ever-present possibility that you will split the seat when you drive the legs home. I always tell students: Keep hitting the leg’s tenon into its mortise until the very next strike will split the seat. Then stop. This is not always possible. Today, I split a seat twice. Both splits occurred in mortises for the […]
We’ve just put up for sale the final 150 copies of “Roman Workbenches” in letterpress. This is the last time you’ll see them on our site. We’re not reprinting the letterpress book.
The book is available to both domestic and international customers.
What about the two missing lines? All the copies have been personally repaired by me or Megan Fitzpatrick. We glued in the two missing lines on paper left over from the press run.
For those of you who cannot afford the letterpress version, I am working on an expanded edition that we will print on our regular offset printing presses that should be released at the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Work was first published in London by Cassel & Company limited on 23 March 1889 and ended on January 14 1893.
There were four volumes released and was named “WORK, An Illustrated Magazine of Practice and Theory.”
There were many authors but the man who begun it all was the first author Ed Francis Young. The Work magazine filled a hole in the market and that was to create a magazine that covered all trades of the working class man, in modern times this would be regarded as the blue collar worker or tradesmen.
I felt a need to bring this magazine back to life once more, but not entirely with all the contents of the yesteryears, but mostly the parts pertaining to woodworking with a hint of metal work as well.
I will cover most topics I have comvered in my blog. As all blogs you have to scroll forever to see alll the topics covered, unless your organised and have each topic categorised which I didn’t.
I have spent a great deal of time writing blogs, never ending research and so forth, while, my own work behind the bench diminshed to an almost stop.
I’m hoping that this magazine will free me up from the responsibilities of the blog but not entirely neglecting the blog, just free me up to devote more time to the craft I love so much.
Education is important, and I believe it should be free, we all have a responsibility to pass on the knowledge we learn along the way. By doing so, we keep the craft alive, teach others skill, be that for the amatuer, or professional. To earn a living for himself should he pursue that avenue. This is a responsibility we all share equally and its not just for the privledged.
This magazine will only be available in pdf format and will be available for download through my blog. As I said above, I intend to cover many topics and many projects. It will be much like my blog except in the hope it will be fairly detailed. Every right up will be accompanied by illustrations and or photographic pictures and possibly videos embedded into the page.
I have no intentions of charging for this magazine but I cannot say for sure if there will be a charge later in the future or if I will continue with it at all. All I know for now, is that I want to bring a first ever hand tool magazine for woodworkers.
I invite anyone who wishes to contribute to this magazine to do so. Please send your write up in PDF format with your full name so it can be accredited to you to
As the original work magazine is to this date is 128 years old there is no copyright on it. Legal advice has been sought and I have been given the go ahead with it. This means I can repost word for word everything that is written in it. Its wonderful to read into the mindset and work practices of the old. There is much we can learn from them.
As you can see from the screen shot above, I’ve already begun the first write up.
As for now, I also cannot say how often a new issue will be released. Let’s just take one step at a time for now.
A Solid Tool Foundation You Can Build With and On
When you first get started woodworking the tools and acquiring them is a fun and exciting aspect of the experience. But it can also be very daunting as there seems to be so many tools we need just to build the first project. And tools are expensive making the task of acquiring a starting set even more difficult.
This doesn’t have to be true and you will find that a small set of tools can stretch a very long way and get you building quickly. Moreover it will light your path to future tool acquisitions by showing you clearly where a task could be made easier with a more specialized tool. For instance, a chisel can pretty much do anything in woodworking, but using just a chisel for some thing is just plain awful. But the chisel can do it so on that first project you may spend a bit more time with chisel and saw to cut that rabbet and when the next project comes around you invest in a rabbet plane. Slowly you start to build a comprehensive tool kit as the tools are needed.
As you add on specialty tools, you also have built the fundamental skills that will allow you to work without those specialty tools and this will come back to reward you when weird situations comes up that only a chisel can tackle. Or strong understanding of the saw, plane, and chisel will shorten the learning curve on a new tool.
Here’s the Important Bit
Wyeth Day Klein born May 20th 9:51 a.m.
It’s a good thing I was home from Handworks because three hours after the show started on Friday, Julia’s water broke. I left work right then and met her and the midwives at our house. She labored through the evening until the next morning when our third little man entered the world in a tub in our bedroom. The birth of a child is an awesome experience. Mama and baby are doing great. I’m on paternity leave taking care of the older boys and attempting to keep up on laundry, dishes, and homestead chores. I’ll go back to work half-time next week.
So, it was time to set up the co-sleeper again. A couple years ago when our second child, Asher, was born, I built a co-sleeper attachment for our rope bed. There were a lot of designs online but nothing I found was inspiring. Most of them had boring prison-bar slats or were screwed together plywood boxes. I wanted to make something reminiscent of period cradles that used real joinery. Most period cradles were freestanding units with four sides but a friend of ours sent us pictures of three-walled co-sleepers attached to the beds in Monticello. I guess nothing is new under the sun.
The sides of our co-sleeper are joined with compound through dovetails and are decorated with curves adapted from a Fisher piece. The rails are drawbored tenoned into the 2 legs. After painting it with the same milk paint I used on our bed, it looked like an intentional set. We used this cradle all throughout Asher’s infancy and loved it. Having him sleep next to our bed was handy for midnight nursing.
With our new little one just born last weekend, I pulled it out of storage and set it up again. It is attached over the bed rail with a piece of angle iron which is screwed to the inside. The end rails are notched to bring the height of this bed such that the baby mattress sits flush with our mattress. It is a simple but sturdy connection.
Asher’s enthusiasm to help install it the other day was sweet. He had his own screwdriver and drove invisible screws next to mine. After everything was installed, he had to try it out to make sure it was sturdy. My, how they grow up fast.
|I can get two out of this|
|squaring the stone to the wood|
|drilling the waste|
|much quicker doing it this way first|
|2 inch bench chisel|
|top to bottom fit is good|
|side to side is off|
|I could tap it home|
|tonight I will figure these out|
|shavings and lots of them|
|I looked at this|
|fits, comes out and goes back in easily|
|the stone is proud|
|need a consistent depth|
|I can one but not the other|
|these will be hidden|
Henry the VIII had 7 children with his many wives. How many of them sat on the British throne?
answer - 3
Once I got done setting up my little station for demonstrating polissoirs and beeswax finishing, I headed out with my friend Ben to see the other venues for Handworks around Amana. The expansion of Handworks has been astounding, the first one four years ago was confined to the Festhalle, this year included jam packed exhibits and demonstrations at a large room adjacent to the furniture-making shop, the former blacksmith’s shop, the former millwright’s shop, and the open air space for green woodworking and similar.
Our first stop was at the furniture shop, host to carver Mary May, the SAPFM Ohio River Chapter, Mike Siemsen, Jim Moon and his amazing Studley tool cabinet replica, and at least a couple more folks. There wasn’t much going on there just yet. Besides, I forgot to take pictures of the set-up.
The blacksmith’s shop was starting to fill, with Bad Axe Tools, and Mortise and Tenon magazine. Not all of the exhibitors had arrived.
Moving on to the millwright’s shop found more activity as a variety of folks were already set up, and some, like me, were out strolling the village.
I’m not sure what the story was with this freestanding great wheel, but I would have definitely found a place for it in the barn.
The final stop was the open air space for timber framers, chair makers, and best of all the crew from Norway demonstrating the amazing skottbenk planing beam.
A year ago I did not even know what this was, now thanks to their blog I have to have one! They were the most cheerful group imaginable, happy to be at Handworks and especially to be away from Norway for a while. The snow back home was still nearly knee deep, so they were reveling in the comparitive tropical paradise.
They’d even found a vintage skottbenk at Amana and had it on display at their space.
This very showy windlass from a bow saw was from their tool set.
We wandered back to the Festhalle for a final look as things were coming together. This is one of my favorite images of the day, from left Rob Lee, Chris Vesper, and Ben Hobbs chatting.
It was our last breath of calm prior to departing for home on Saturday evening.
You can now purchase a set of Crucible Design Curves in our online store at crucibletool.com. The set of three curves costs $37, and that price includes shipping in the United States.
These curves are laser cut at Grainwell, which is across the street from my workshop in Covington, Ky., and is run by three hard working and creative sisters. I then sand the curves in my shop in Fort Mitchell (using both machine sanding and hand sanding).
We started with several hundred sets and they are selling rapidly. So tarry not. (More curves, however, are in the pipeline if we do sell out.)
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
As a general thing I find undoing another man’s work humbling. You tap parts apart, break glue lines a man joined together a hundred or two hundred years ago and there you find a chisel cut and a man’s name written in cursive script that flows in a way most young men and women no …
This is an excerpt from “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz.
These planes earn their name because they consist of a metal shell that has been “infilled” with wood. And they also have been “infilled” with a fair amount of mystical hooey. Don’t get me wrong, I like infill planes for what they are (well-made, beautiful and functional tools), but I haven’t chugged the infill Kool-Aid that makes one believe they have superpowers.
I can say this because I have worked with many infills during the last 12 years. I’ve used $100 pieces of clap-trap garbage and a $10,000 masterpiece from the shop of Karl Holtey (pronounced Hol-tie, FYI), the grand master of custom planemaking.
They are just planes, and they face many of the same trade-offs that the metal, wooden and transitional planes do. Wood moves. Metal can be difficult to work.
So here are their advantages: They have a metal sole that may or may not need truing when you get the tool. After the sole has been flattened, it rarely goes out of true unless the tool is dropped, run over by an automobile, or the wooden infill inside the shell distorts the metal significantly when the wood moves.
Infills have scads of mass, which some woodworkers prefer. The weight really can keep the plane in the cut with less effort. Most infill planes have a screw-powered lever cap (though some infills secure the iron with a wedge). The screw-powered lever cap is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Its advantage is that you can screw down the iron with almost superhuman force. This creates a stable cutting environment and can close up a slight gap between your iron and chipbreaker that would spell curtains for other types of planes.
It also can make your plane’s iron difficult to adjust or – in some cases – be plane suicide. Most infill planes lack mechanical adjusters that control the depth of cut – you use hammer taps. However, infills that have adjusters use a mechanism that’s usually called a “Norris-style” adjuster. These are sometimes, but not always, fragile.
So if you cinch down your lever cap with lots of force then adjust the iron, you will wear out the adjuster quite quickly, and perhaps even strip the threads.
One of the other advantages of infill planes is hard to quantify. Most woodworkers (me included) find them fetching. So as a rule they are better cared for (like a sports car) and rarely abandoned to rust (like a Vega).
The disadvantages of infills are real. Because the iron is bedded on both metal and wood, you can encounter some problems with this marriage of materials. The metal won’t move, but the wood will. The result is the iron won’t be bedded securely, so you get chatter or inconsistent results until you file the bed flat.
Also, be wary of new infills that are filled with exotic wood. Exotics are notoriously hard to dry properly. And if your infill isn’t dry it could distort or crack as it acclimates to your shop. Always ask the seller or the maker about the moisture content of the wood. If he or she is not sure, you should be on your guard for possible problems ahead.
Infills don’t have movable frogs, and I know of only one infill that has an adjustable mouth. As a result, the mouth aperture is fairly immutable. You can open the mouth with a file. But to close up the mouth, you are going to have to invest in a thicker, custom-made iron or in a welding class to patch the mouth.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: The Anarchist's Tool Chest
Jennie Alexander was born John Alexander on Dec. 8, 1930. She has lived in row houses her entire life, and their vernacular architecture defines, in part, not only the city she has always called home, but also a more intimate part of herself.
A lifelong Baltimorean, Jennie was educated in the Baltimore school systems, which were quite good, she says. “I was a lonely child. I had a very, very busy father and my mother was rather reserved — a good mother, but rather reserved. After 32 years of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) I have come to recognize that they did the best they could. And I’m starting to recognize that I’m doing the best I can, rather than reaching further, further, further.”
Those who know Jennie consider her a pioneer, instrumental in designing the now-iconic two-slat post-and-rung shaved chair, and responsible for the revolution of “greenwoodworking” (a word she coined, and spelled as one word, she insists, because “it sings.”). Her complex, twisty past in many ways resembles the sinuous shavings that once hooked over her right ear (one of her favorite stories, more on that later), and is essential to understanding how a jazz musician turned divorce lawyer became one of the most beloved chairmakers of our time.
And at 86 years old, Jennie wants to share her story – all of it.
“I had a sister, but we weren’t close,” Jennie says, delving into her childhood while drinking a hot cup of Throat Coat tea. “I was intelligent. I was anxious. I was inquiring. I read out the local library. I was a child of the alleys. There was a park also fairly close by where I could romp. I was a great walker.”
The Alexanders’ maid, Maggie, was Jennie’s “most interesting influence,” and it was Maggie who Jennie was around most as a child. “She knew children and we got along very well,” Jennie says. “I can remember her sitting me on the window sill of the second floor and holding me firmly, singing to me to teach me to climb without fear, to teach me tone. Songs were powerful spirits.”
Jennie’s father, a well-known lawyer, was an anxious man, she says. “My father and I never got along. He knew that when I was a child I wasn’t going to be manly, because I was little. And he sent me to the greatest doctors at Johns Hopkins. As a result, they hung a swing set in the passageway between the kitchen and dining room, and I was supposed to swing on it and stretch.”
This, Jennie says, led to lifelong anxiety and feelings of isolation.
“My mother wasn’t exactly touchy-feely. She was a good mother, and by the way, they both did the best they could, 100 percent. But that led to a lot of these incidents that got me to where I went.”
The incidents Jennie is referring to come later in her story – mostly key people in her life that prompted transformation, including a psychologist, Charles Hummel and Peter Follansbee.
Kindnesses and Recognizing ‘the Flash’
Jennie spent her childhood pounding away at the piano and later became a self-taught jazz musician who played professionally. “I enjoyed that very much, and I met some wonderful people,” she says. “I grew up in the time when New Orleans jazz was being revived and at the same time be-bop was being created. And it was very interesting that the two groups coincided. In other words, they knew each other. They hung out together. We got together and had a good time.”
One of the more well-known jazz musicians at the time was a man named Benny, who Jennie said was very active on the be-bop side, when not in jail. The two never met until many years later, when Jennie was transitioning from male to female. It was 2007. The last job Jennie ever played as a male was with Benny on drums. The two were part of a trio playing at one of Jennie’s alma maters, St. John’s College.
“It was a wonderful job,” Jennie says. “I had driven Benny down from Baltimore and we drove back and I said, ‘Benny, would you like dinner?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ And so I went upstairs, came back as a female and we went to dinner. We had a very pleasant dinner. He is just a nice, gentle person with a wonderful beat, by the way. And two-thirds of the way into dinner Benny looked and me and said, ‘John! You’ve really changed!’ And that was the nicest, from-the-heart little thing.”
Nothing more was said, and the two finished dinner. “It speaks to jazz, friendship and kindness,” Jennie says. “And those are such wonderful, wonderful aspects of life that I enjoy and, of course, friendship and kindness have much to do with woodworking, too.”
These days Jennie loves when a stranger calls, writes or visits, and she can tell that they’ve shaved wood and they know what that experience is like. “You can see it in their eyes,” she says, describing it as a flash. “It’s incredible. The beauty of that for me is this was given to me, greenwoodworking. And therefore my calling is to give it back. So if they call, I listen. I answer. I think. I’m willing to be called again. There is a spirit of shaving wood that fills a place in me that otherwise is not filled as a person, as a thinker, as a human being. It was given to me, so I give it back.”
Jennie has kept regular files of folks who have contacted her and responses, and every year a few stand out. “They become correspondents, students, critics, adventurers, and it’s such a blessing that that and music has sustained me,” she says.
Woodworking, never mind greenwoodworking, did not define Jennie until later in life. But the seed was always there.
From Student to Jazz Musician to Divorce Lawyer
As a teenager Jennie spent a lot of time taking down dead locust trees on her father’s country property. To do so, she would scrape out some dirt around the trees’ shallow roots and then simply push the trees down. “The problem,” she says, laughing, “you’ve got dead locust limbs up there. And we kids, we didn’t even have helmets on. Absolutely nuts. When we’d hear a crack, we’d run. And so we got the trees down, and I had a little experience with them.”
With both parents working, Jennie’s mother often left Jennie a to-do list, with the freedom to pick up any needed tools from Boulevard Hardware. Jennie says her mother told the owner, “If Johnny comes in and wants anything, you provide him with the best.” What Jennie’s mother didn’t say was that, as a child in Quincy, Mass., she was a student of the Educational Sloyd System, which provided training in the use of tools and materials, and, Jennie says, focused on proportion work.
“So Mother knew a little about wood and grain and so on, and she also had a post-and-rung rocking chair,” Jennie says. “But she never told me when I was growing up or when I was woodworking that I was doing it wrong or anything. Except that she told the hardware man to furnish me with any tool I needed.”
Jennie attended high school at Baltimore City Polytechnic Institute, which specialized in engineering. After graduating she enrolled at Johns Hopkins University as a sophomore to study engineering and was immediately bored. She says the only difference between college and high school at that point was they were teaching to four decimal points rather than two, so she had to get a better slide rule.
Jennie began singing and playing the piano in bars at night, and eventually dropped out of Johns Hopkins and worked for a while. She then attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, a participant in its “100 Great Books” program.
“I learned a lot, but not as much as I should have because in those four years, three of them were consumed with my relationship with Harlan James,” Jennie says. “He was a much better musician than I, but we were both students of traditional jazz, and we played duets for three years. He’s still in his 80s playing professionally in New York.”
After St. John’s Jennie began playing jazz professionally, up to five days a week, making a living. “But one morning I wake up and I have this hideous problem,” she says. “I’m not happy because I know that I’m a self-taught musician. And though I have worked things out – now I can play rather well, and in the style of traditional New Orleans music or blues – I know I’m never going to be a great musician.”
This, she says, was because she didn’t have the real fluidity of playing tone – improvisation. “I can do it, but I’m not free of it because I don’t have that much command, you see, of the keys and of the chords. And that’s very typical of self-taught musicians. Some of them go on to train themselves but that’s not going to happen with me, I know that. So I would love to be a musician but I want to be a very good musician and I’m close, but I won’t make it unless I study, and study isn’t in me for some reason.”
And then, while lying in bed another morning, Jennie hears a voice.
“Go to law school,” the voice said. “And I knew exactly who that voice was. The voice as the voice of Snowball, the imaginary voice of a banjo player who had played on local AM radio in Baltimore when I was 8, 10 years old – ‘Uncle Bill and Snowball.’ Snowball has come back, buried in me. So what do I do? I get up, eat breakfast, put on my best suit and walk to the law school. The University of Maryland is within walking distance.”
Jennie simply walked inside and asked, “May I see the dean?” The receptionist said yes.
“And the dean is an old gentleman, wearing the old library coat sometimes professors wore to keep their suits from getting dusty from books,” she says. “And he’s a Southern gentleman. And he says, ‘From what you tell me you graduated from Polytechnic Institute and from what you tell me you graduated from the Annapolis liberal arts schools, St. John’s. Those are excellent places to learn. You’re admitted.’ No background. No records. Nothing from other schools. And so on that day, probably the 12th of August, just before law school was starting, that’s what happened. Snowball and the dean sent me to law school.”
Jennie took night classes so she wouldn’t be tempted to play music. For each hour of class, she studied an hour, and at the end, came in first in the Maryland bar exam. “But that was also because of the approach I took,” she said.
Years before Jennie had spent a year working in her father’s law office. As a result, she answered her exam questions as if she was working back in that law office – if she didn’t know the answer, she said she didn’t know. “And the law examiner, he probably gave me an 8 or a 9 out of 10. He said, ‘You know, I like this kid because he doesn’t bullshit me. He doesn’t guess. Because when he’s going to work for me and gives me a guess, I’m dead.’ And I had figured that out working in my father’s office for a year. And that’s why I came in first.” That honesty extended into Jennie’s law career, and served her well.
To imagine Jennie as a lawyer, imagine her as she appeared in a magazine article that featured Maryland’s five best divorce lawyers: a 5’3” male wearing a three-piece suit with a vest, what she calls “Methodist minister’s shoes,” with little dots around them, and a red, white-dotted bowtie.
While being interviewed for that article, by the way, Jennie refused to share details about some of her more interesting cases. The journalist persisted but Jennie stood her ground, so as not to out and shame her clients. The journalist left and Jennie assumed she would be featured poorly. But she wasn’t. Twenty-five years later Jennie says she reread the article and realized love in a place she hadn’t seen it before. “I realized love appears in many, many, many places,” she says. “And it appears for me, also, when I’m shaving green wood. And in a piece of greenwoodworking.”
Like the sinuous fibers in a thin shaving, Jennie has come to realize that all of her experiences relate tenuously yet meaningfully, in a way that’s difficult to see until you reach the age of 86.
It was while lawyering that Jennie became interested in woodworking. By then Jennie, then John, was married to Joyce. “Joyce,” Jennie says, “my wife of years and years and years, who is now deceased, and a total sweet, blessed antidote to this very fast, very nervous, very jazzy, very anxious person.”
Jennie was reading books on woodworking and chairmaking, and had collected some tools. Her neighbor, Jack Goembel, let her use his shop. Later another woodworking friend, when he decided to stop woodworking to become a mail carrier, sold her his lathe, band saw and drill press. It was the first loan Jennie and Joyce ever took out and it was with Joyce’s insistence. “It was just so beautiful,” Jennie says.
Jennie and Joyce made several trips to Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, where they met Sister Mildred. The first visit was to see the chairs. Sister Mildred said, “You know, it’s interesting. People think we’re chairs.” They visited a couple more times (to see the chairs, yes, but to also learn about the Shakers). Soon, Jennie decided that she wanted to build a Shaker one-slat dining chair.
Once home Jennie called a firewood man she found in the phone book and asked if he could deliver some 6’ hickory logs. He could, and did, and when he dropped them on the pavement out back, the whole house trembled.
Without a froe Jennie says she whacked them up into a somewhat cylindrical shape and put them on the lathe.
“Now the lathe had a 2-horsepower motor and the sticks were, let’s say, 4” in diameter and all bumpy and irregular,” she says. “The lathe danced across the cellar floor because of the lack of symmetry. So I danced along with them. And then, finally, I got down to the sapwood – and by the way, the wood is soaking wet, which is the other requirement I needed – and the sinuous shavings keep flying through the air and hooking on my right ear. They come off the gouge, hit my right ear and they’re soaking wet. I tell myself I will never go back to the lumberyard. That was my moment.”
And with that, Jennie made her first, rather clunky, she says, one-slat Shaker dining chair.
“I’m John, practicing lawyer, busier than the dickens, full of himself, and by the way I was a divorce trial lawyer, not just a settler,” she says, “which is about the worst profession for a human being that can be.” John spent a lot of his time listening to clients in crisis. Though successful, lawyering never had the flash that woodworking did.
It was around this time that Jennie became a member of the Early American Industries Association (EAIA). At an early meeting she met Charles Hummel, a curator at Winterthur. Charles was Jennie’s introduction to the academic side of woodworking.
Remember when Jennie was talking about that flash? Charles, she says, saw that flash in Jennie. “And his response was to show me, but never explain it,” she says.
Charles was often invited to museums a day before EAIA meetings to discuss complicated issues with staff regarding furniture and tools.
“Charles would often say, ‘John, would you like to go with me?’ And off we would go,” Jennie says. “So I would get exposed to the museum people, their problems, and the professional students. And I would get to listen. And some of these conversations took place down in what they call the Study Collection. Oh my goodness gracious. Here I am with my eyes popping, listening with one ear while looking at everything around me. And, of course, the beauty of what I’m looking at down there is it’s often broken up. And I’m a fiend for traditional joinery. And they were very generous, instructed me, gave me slides and all the information I needed.”
Charles knew what Jennie wanted to see and often, while walking around with a docent, Charles would purposefully lead the docent away, from, for example, a chair that interested Jennie. And while they’d be engaged in conversation, Jennie would be under the chair to get a better look.
“It was incredible,” she says. “We laughed together and we were very personable and I’m still dear friends with he and his wife and oodles of people because they, how should I put it? They loved me before I loved myself. And they treasured me. They sensed this little flame, you see, because they had this little flame. And sometimes, it was very interesting, it turned out I learned a little more about these things than they did. Particularly the construction.”
Jennie became an expert and her study of antique furniture grew into hours spent experimenting with theories on joinery. She decided to write a book (which later would be published as the revolutionary “Make a Chair from a Tree,” in 1978 by Taunton Press, and then later in 1999 in DVD form, directed by Anatol Polillo, a professional videographer and a former student).
However, just as the book was almost complete, yet another twist.
Inspiring a Movement
Jennie was slated to demonstrate at an EAIA event. A week before the event she got a call. “Oh, Mr. Alexander,” the caller said. “We’re terribly sorry but you can’t demonstrate.”
“Why is that?” Jennie asked.
“It’s because you’re using a lathe in front of an audience and we were told by the insurance people that if the spindle flies out into the audience and perhaps injures someone …”
Jennie was devastated.
“I’m down in the basement kicking and cussing and Joyce is upstairs,” Jennie says.
“John?” Joyce says. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
Jennie says she went upstairs, the perfect picture of despair. After Jennie sips some tea Joyce says, “Look. You cut down a tree.Then you take your wedges and your mallet and you split it up. And then you split it into smaller pieces. And then you drawknife and you make a rather good cylindrical piece of wood because now you know how to do all that, not like before. So why don’t you just keep going and shave the entire chair?”
And Jennie did.
And when she returned from the EAIA meeting, she brought with her the shaved chair parts, and made her first entirely shaved two-slat post-and-rung chair.
Once finished, the publication of “Make a Chair from a Tree” was one-and-a-half months away. John Kelsey, then the editor of Fine Woodworking, at Jennie’s request, removed all references to the lathe and the reader was presented with a book about a shaved two-slat post-and-rung chair.
“Give them a mallet, give them a wedge, pay them a lot of attention, give them a froe, fine split it, give them a drawknife, give them a spokeshave, and they’ve got a chair,” she says.
By now it was 1978. “And I keep teaching and teaching and teaching and traveling there and traveling elsewhere,” she says. “So the shaving, really, made the existence of the post-and-rung chair a reality in this country.” People from all over the country were becoming more interested in hand tools, traditional woodworking, greenwoodworking and chairmaking. Jennie’s classes at Country Workshops in North Carolina were filled with experts in the field of traditional furniture, folks like Robert Trent.
And Jennie says, over and over, that it was thanks to Joyce, and a cup of tea.
In addition to the traveling, teaching, demonstrating and chairmaking, Jennie was still visiting her beloved museums. And eventually, she was given permission to carefully disassemble the door of an unusual wall cabinet, which was located in Winterthur’s Study Collection. So she popped out the pins of the drawbored mortise-and-tenon joint and, “It was fascinating,” she says. “Totally fascinating and a large tribute to an incredible piece of joinery. Here I am, this divorce lawyer (and I think I might have been diddling with gin still then, which led to a 32-year career with AA, which has been a wonderful journey) and I take this thing apart and it’s unbelievable. There is no literature on this. There is no written thing to my knowledge of anybody describing the joint.”
“The museum people are fascinated by 17th-century woodworking so much that they want to distribute it and show it to the world,” Jennie says. “And so what they do is they glue it together. It’s creaky, it’s bumpy, so it’s bye-bye joint.” Most academics were more interested in who made the furniture and where it was from versus how it was constructed, Jennie says. “And then they met this untutored person, who now they’re quite familiar with, and they let me go down there and take the sucker apart.”
Another story: One day Charles took Jennie up to a little room filled with 17th century items upstairs at Winterthur. They come upon a chest covered with a rug. And on top of the rug, about $25,000 worth of trinkets — a small cup, a little brass spoon, etc.
“And Charles – I’ll never forget this scene – takes his necktie, droops it over each little item, holds it to the necktie and carries it to the top of the next chest so he can open this one,” Jennie says. “Not saying a word! And so I figured if Charles is not saying a word, I’ll shut up, which is rare for me.”
After all the trinkets were carefully removed, Charles threw open the chest.
“He doesn’t say a damn word,” Jennie says. “And this chest has two back posts, which are both terrible looking. They have knots. They have hatchet slashes. So there I am staring at these two back posts and all of a sudden it strikes me that these two posts are the faded, scratched mirror image of each other. That is if one has a bump, the other has a crevice. In other words, these two posts were rived. They were split.”
At this point Jennie was teaching at Drew Langsner’s Country Workshops. Drew and his wife, Louise, were instrumental in Jennie’s evolution as a chairmaker, particularly in the support they offered by providing a place for Jennie to teach, and bringing in students from all over the world which still, to this day, amazes Jennie.
While Jennie was teaching at Country Workshops, Peter was taking classes.
And the two, as Jennie says, “just hit it off.” They would often talk about joinery, these majestic chests made out of rived wood and the disassembled drawbored mortise-and-tenon joint Jennie discovered at Winterthur. And, as this was before computers, they would look at slides.
While Peter says he saw the slides of the disassembled cupboard door at Country Workshops, Jennie insists it was at her house, in Baltimore. But the where doesn’t matter. What matters is the resulting six books of correspondence sitting in three-ring binders upstairs in Jennie’s row house – page after page of ideas, arguments, drawings and questions between Peter and Jennie, which ultimately resulted in an article on the construction of 17th-century mortise-and-tenon joinery and “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” (Lost Art Press).
Jennie describes it as a “wonderful explosion” and says Peter simply rocketed off. “It was just incredible to watch,” she says. And while Peter “zoomed off into space,” Jennie says, she, “somehow for some reason or another, said, it’s time to go back to making two-slat post-and-rung chairs. And that’s what I’ve done since.”
And she’s done so, “realizing with gratitude the kindnesses to a very precocious, young, unstudied man, from the academics and also from the really accomplished joiners in North Carolina and New England, Maine and Delaware. And it has been a tremendous blessing. A tremendous blessing.”
And Jennie’s comfortable with having stuck to two-slat post-and-rung chairs. (Her health is such that she no longer builds them today.) Many consider her design, which is not from an artist’s or designer’s perspective, she says, but rather a nod to the lumbar spine, the body, perfection.
Despite being responsible for revolutionizing the world of chairmaking, Jennie says “the wonderful thing about this is it has so little to do with me. It’s almost as I’ve been led step by step by step. It was like someone was pulling me by my nose – here we go, you little funny man with the hat.”
Mentorship and Happy Incidents
So who is Jennie today?
“First of all, I’m much, much better,” she says. “At 77 years of age it was suggested that I transgendered by my wonderful therapist who I see every fall when I get depressed.” In the fall of 2007 Jennie visited her therapist, as she does every year, and Jennie shared her “old sad stories with no new data.” The therapist listened, looked at her and simply said, “Are you ready to be a woman?”
“Now, obviously, I had a lot of indications along the way that I wasn’t exactly the full, red-blooded male, but I had never really considered it,” Jennie says. “My wife had died, god bless her, in ’96, my children (Jennie has three daughters) were up in age. I had never even thought about it. And she says, ‘Are you ready to be a woman?’ Seven words. I said, ‘Certainly!’ So we laid out a little course.”
And while transgendering helped Jennie, woodworking, she says, has always been the ultimate cure to years of anxiety and feelings of isolation. “That’s the place where I can be myself,” she says. “That was where I could express my creativity.”
Woodworking, and also playing music. If Jennie could be summed up in two words, it would be “greenwoodworker” and “musician.”
And, I would add, mentor.
Jennie talks a lot about the kindnesses that she has been given, the happy accidents and run-ins and introductions that have led to new discoveries, opportunities and lifelong friends. But in addition to the many students she has taught and corresponded with over the years, several stick out, including Evangelos Courpas, Nathaniel Krause and, of course, Peter.
Jennie taught Peter greendwoodworking, chairmaking, and introduced him to 17th century joinery. “He and I were co-apprentices, whatever that would be, for quite a while, all the way through the stool book,” Jennie says. “And we wrote back and forth and it was a most exciting time. And then he was just rocketing off in space and he is No. 1. He is a better carver. He is a better craftsman. There is no question about that. So I went back to making two-slat post-and-rung chairs, which is really where I belonged for a lot of reasons.”
Evangelos, who Jennie calls Geli, was born in Baltimore in 1960. He was 13 years old when he began a five-year informal apprenticeship in greenwoodworking with Jennie, which took place during the period Jennie was writing “Make a Chair from a Tree.”
Geli lived a few doors down the street from Jennie, and simply began hanging around Jennie’s shop. Eventually Jennie gave him a key. “The interesting thing was, and I don’t know why this ever happened, but I never told him anything,” Jennie says. “I never used words. He watched, you know I might go a little slower on something I was doing, and he watched and he watched and he watched. And after a long time I went to the basement one more morning and there was Geli, putting his chair together. He must have been doing this in the early mornings because I had never seen him making one. At this point, he was shaving rungs for me, or so I thought. And here was a darn, daggone chair. And I’ll never forget the shy, little smile on his face. He was making his first chair.”
But what Jennie found most interesting about Geli’s chair was that it wasn’t a copy. Geli’s back post-and-rung slats, which Jennie says are the most dramatic thing about her chairs, had been shaved just a little bit differently. “He had come up with a feeling for the back posts, which was his,” she says. “You could tell a Geli chair.”
After graduating with a studio art degree from Oberlin College in 1984, Geli began making art and furniture. He spent years building and creating, while also earning more degrees in things like ceramics and electronic integrated arts. In 2013, Jennie gifted Geli tools and a workbench, and since then Geli has gone back to his roots, opening up a woodworking studio in Liberty, S.C.
And then there’s Nathaniel Krause. When Nathaniel was a young teenager, Jennie received a phone call from a school in West Virginia where she was slated to teach a chairmaking class. “Mr. Alexander?” the caller said. “We have a young man here would like to take your chairmaking class and he’s a very nice young man.” He was a young teenager. Jennie said, “Certainly.”
It was clear from the start that Nathaniel was a good student. At one point, when the students were up to their hips in shavings, Nathaniel, who had finished all his parts, simply picked up a broom and started sweeping – something Jennie still remembers to this day.
When Nathaniel’s parents came to pick him up from that class, Jennie shaved and put on a clean shirt. She explained to his parents the importance of the youth in America being involved in traditional woodworking. “They seemed impressed,” Jennie says.
“And so Nathaniel expressed an interest to come to Baltimore in the summer and would you believe his parents drove him from West Virginia and he stayed six weeks, maybe eight weeks,” Jennie says. “And then he started to learn all kinds of things because I was playing with joint stools then, and joinery and chairmaking. And we just had a whale of a time. He is an excellent craftsman.”
The next summer, Nathaniel took the train to Baltimore and again, spent six weeks with Jennie. The summer after that, Nathaniel had his driver’s license and drove to Baltimore for another six weeks.
Nathaniel earned a civil engineering degree from West Virginia University and a masters in civil engineering from Virginia Tech. These days he’s an engineer in Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ Office of Compliance and Laboratories (and was recently named the 2017 Young Engineer of the Year by the Engineering Society of Baltimore).
Once Nathaniel stopped spending his summers with Jennie, for the next 10 years Jennie would still call him, asking him where a tool was – and Nathaniel would tell her. They still have dinner together most Thursday nights.
Jennie’s love of greenwoodworking is infectious. Another example: Jennie still lives at home, alone, and it was suggested that someone visit her five days a week to check on her and provide assistance when needed. Enter Jennie Boyd. In addition to helping Jennie Alexander with daily tasks, Jennie Alexander has been teaching Jennie Boyd greenwoodworking, which Jennie Boyd has fallen in love with – specifically spoon carving. Without much effort, Jennie Alexander has sparked the flash in yet someone else.
In many ways, Jennie attributes her success to others, and “happy incidents.” But the story of her life clearly paints a different picture. It’s the story of an intelligent, anxiety-ridden child who fell in love with music, put herself through law school, immersed herself into the world of traditional woodworking, revitalized shaved chairmaking, coined “greenwoodworking” and “two-slat shaved post-and-rung chair,” mentored many, and rediscovered herself at 77.
“I couldn’t be more fortunate,” she says. “I’m going to die happy, not unfulfilled.”
To end, “You Are My Sunshine,” sung and played on the piano by Jennie, as part of the Baltimore Jazz Trio. You may listen to it here.https://lostartpress.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/sunshine.mp3
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: Make a Joint Stool from a Tree, Uncategorized
Another Handworks is history. How was it? The weather was trying........as in pretty crappy, however the enthusiasm of the attendees was not dampened by the rainy raw weather. The people endured and as a result it was yet again another great hand tool woodworking event.
Julie and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary at the inaugural Handworks 4 years ago and that speaks volumes about our relationship. Today we celebrate 44 years. We have spent our anniversary at soccer tournaments, graduations and yes woodworking events, and that is why it has worked so well. We've supported each other in every endeavor even if it's meant sacrifice. Given that I've had multiple careers it has required a bit more resilience and understanding from her. But that's pretty much the way we've approached our married life, head on and together. One of us has never been dragged along. We've approached everything as a willing participating part of the a 2 person team. It might go without saying that I would marry her again today, but heck at 44 years it might be just the thing to say.
"I would marry her again today and wouldn't even have to think about it",
Today was supposed to be the day when I was going to start on the moulding plane build and I ran into a brick wall again. I realised with each plane’s different width, the wedge’s thickness will also be different. Well it was back to the drawing board and instead of just sketching it on a piece of paper, I needed something that a little more accurate and permanent. With that I mean something I can refer to every time I make a new plane, and I will be making a lot of them.
So I turned to autocad and started drawing away, but before I could draw anything, I needed good reference photos of what 18th century moulding planes look like, and tweak them to suit my build. So I turned to http://msbickford.com/ and clicked on his hollows and rounds. These photos served as a base reference point, there’s no measurements I could work from but judging by eye, I know that the smallest 1/8″ plane’s wedge must be about 1/4″ thick and the thickest to be about 3/8″ and I have a plane that has a 1/2″ thick wedge. The plane I’m currently working on is a no.15 which means it has a radius of 1 1/8″, just what is supposed to be the thickness of that wedge, I don’t have the faintest. I know just by judging the photo the walls thickness between the chamfers are 1/32″ and if I’m right, which I’m sure I am, that will make the wedge thickness to be 15/32″. But I don’t have the balls to make the walls that thin, instead I’m going to make it 1/8″ thick which will make the wedge’s thickness to be 9/32″, which is the same width as the tang. This is only one plane, I still the rest to draw and I wonder if the top half goes down in increments of 1/4″ or less. Without having the planes in my hand to reference from it’s going to be a scratch your head up hill battle.
I don’t know if I should ask him, is it impolite to do so, will he get offended???? Do any of you know how to work out what the wedge’s thickness should be for each plane and what the top half of the body of the plane’s thickness should be for each plane. As you can see I’ve only worked out for one, but how do you work it out for each plane? They go down in increments, but by how much?
Anyway, here are my drawings for the no.15, they are in A3 and in inches.
In this episode of 360 with 360WoodWorking we talk with Ron Herman of Woodworkingwithron.com to get his take on how barometric pressures figure into our woodworking. Along with how pressure effects wood, he shares stories on how it effects your tools, too.
Join 360 Woodworking every Thursday for a lively discussion on everything from tools to techniques to wood selection (and more). Glen talks with various guests about all things woodworking and some things that are slightly off topic.
Roger Moore, in The Guardian:
The sad fact is that I know exactly how to make a dry martini but I can’t drink them because, two years ago, I discovered I was diabetic. I prefer one with gin, but James Bond liked a vodka martini, “shaken not stirred” – which I never said, by the way. That was Sean Connery, remember him?
The worst martini I’ve ever had was in a club in New Zealand, where the barman poured juice from a bottle of olives into the vodka. That’s called a dirty martini and it is a dirty, filthy, rotten martini, and should not be drunk by anybody except condemned prisoners.
My dry martinis taste amazing and the day they tell me I’ve got 24 hours to live I am going to have six. Here’s how I make them:
Great guy. I hope he had his six.
(Photo from Flickering Myth.)