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Upcoming in Issue Three… Book Review by Vic Tesolin: “A Field Guide to Identifying Woods in American Antiques & Collectibles” by R. Bruce Hoadley
I’m a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction and as you can imagine, most of my non-fiction reading is about woodworking. Currently you’ll find me in the Japanese hand plane rabbit hole and I’m not sure if I can find my way back out.
Joshua asked me if I could write a review of R. Bruce Hoadley’s latest book A Field Guide to Identifying Woods in American Antiques and Collectibles when he and I were at the Fine Woodworking Live event this year. Writing this review was an absolute pleasure for me because I have read almost everything Hoadley has printed. Although, to be fair, I wasn’t sure that I was going to pick this one up…but I’m glad I did.
Many woodworkers don’t understand how wood works. This is an odd thing because, for me, understanding the medium I work with helps me to understand how to work with it. Things like grain direction, porosity and hardness help my come up with a plan of attack for my tools. Take hand planing as an example. White pine practically glistens when you use a low cutting angle, however, try that in hard maple and see what happens. The more you know about wood, the better woodworker you will become.
This book is aimed at the antique market including conservators, collectors and traders, so what did I think of it as a maker? You’ll have to read the full review to see exactly what I thought.
- Vic Tesolin, The Minimalist Woodworker
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s announcement of the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...
Upcoming in Issue Three: “Making a Stand: Form and Function for $1.50” by Michael Updegraff
Most woodworkers today admire the form of the period candlestand. From the graceful, sinuous legs to the seemingly intricate sliding dovetails that secure them, from the details of the turned standard to the beautiful grain exhibited in a tilting top, these pieces sometimes seem to be more sculpture than household mainstay. But this type was possibly the most common piece of furniture around in the 18th or 19th century, and was often present in every room of the house. Consequently, makers of the day built these stands not only in great quantity, but fast. After all, a single candlestand typically fetched from $.50 to $1.50, less than a day’s pay at the turn of the 19th century. Speed and efficiency were necessary to turn a profit.
I begin by felling a tree with an axe, and work through the riving, resawing, and ripping necessary to generate the stock required. The top is glued up from a rough-sawn piece of cherry that needed a good home. The standard (or pillar, or column, depending on whom you ask) is laid out from photographs of a historical piece and turned on a spring-pole lathe.
The legs, also patterned off of a period example, are secured to the standard with sliding dovetails and by a “spider” fashioned from a piece of scrap metal. We’ll be keeping an eye on the clock throughout this build, and looking at various ways to improve efficiency in the process. After all, the kids are hungry, the barn needs a new roof, and $1.50 only goes so far.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s announcement of the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...
Editor’s Note: I am currently on my return trip home from visiting with Garrett Hack and his wife, Carolyn, on their idyllic Vermont farm. Garrett and I spent time in his shop doing the photography for his article in our upcoming Issue Three. I’ve asked Garrett to provide a summary for readers here at the blog. The following is his write-up…
“There is no mystery why woodworkers (and many other trades) relied on patterns. They are a simple and accurate way to transfer shapes easily and repeatedly. A shapely case apron, curved chair leg, or the serpentine profile of a tabletop are all typical patterns an 18th century maker would have had on hand and used to speed his work along, just as I do today.
Templates can do far more useful work than repeating pleasing shapes. Early in the design process when I am drawing a project I’ll make quick patterns — you could call them “sketches” — from thin softwood to more easily see the shape of complex parts such as the back leg of a chair. By propping it up on the floor as the leg will stand and getting back, I can see a lot more than from a drawing alone.
My pattern then guides me to cut out and shape the actual legs. I use it in laying out my cuts to get the most harmonious and strongest grain flow through the leg, and to organize those cuts — nesting them together when I can — to use my stock and time most economically. It might even yield an extra part or two, always a good idea. For the final shaping I work to the pattern, sliding it against each leg as I shave away with hand tools, to create multiple accurate parts.
When it comes to laying out cuts, joinery, details such as the location of a banding or bead, my pattern becomes a mistake-proof story stick. For curved parts where these locations are harder to measure with a rule, flexing a template and transferring marks is both easier and more accurate. These marks preserved on my story stick are often the start of the next iteration of this design.
Patterns are indispensable for one more task — getting difficult joinery right in complex pieces. While I can’t experiment with the actual part, I can fit a thin pattern carefully into position, to get an accurate length and shoulder angles. When the project is done, the patterns are the most valuable pieces I have left. I hang them around my shop waiting for the time I might need them again.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s announcement of the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...
Why do we gravitate towards seeing things in black and white, right or wrong, this or that? In this article, Danielle explores the tendency of such a dynamic in the world of woodworking, a world where art is frequently thought of as less-than; a recurrent villain to the hero of craft. Why does the word “art” incite such pushback and how can we inhabit more of the gray areas that exist, in both our own work and the appreciation of others’?
Speaking from her perspective and using the work of furniture makers who inspire her as an example, she describes the journey of balancing traditional hand tool techniques and practicality with the importance she places on the many modern, improvisational, and experimental methods used to shape and embellish her work.
Her encouragement lies in the acceptance of many modes of expression, and emphasizes that the very recognition of one mode does not necessitate the negation of any other. This article does not escape the sociological scope that Danielle frequently employs to identify and make sense of common human behaviors, especially within the realm of hand tool woodworking.
As a child in a declining rural Maine paper mill town she sought beauty where there were only gray smokestacks nestled in the foothills and an overwhelming sentiment of collective defeat. She learned that what she was searching for was something she could create. With this perspective she addresses the value of beauty within the world of craft and the function it serves, suggesting that function goes far beyond the capacity to perform a task. Beyond her own role in this sect of the trades, she makes a case for others to explore their own vision of beauty within utility, either theoretically or in their own work, to help further the craft in all its forms.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s announcement of the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...
You have to see this stuff to believe it. When I tell people that pre-industrial furniture (almost without exception) is rife with tool marks, overcuts, and even tear out, I get the sense that some people don’t believe me. They think that there’s no way that the wonderful antiques they’ve seen behind velvet ropes in special museum lighting could be as rough inside as I am asserting. I’ve heard some say maybe I’m just talking about vernacular furniture made by farmers.
I understand the skepticism because this kind of workmanship flies in the face of modern woodworking dogma. But I’m not just talking about a few slap-dash anomalies. These kinds of tool marks are exactly the bits of evidence that antique dealers rely on for authentication. From the nailed together chest to the elaborately carved highboy, this stuff is normal, par-for-the-course pre-industrial workmanship.
This discussion reminds me of an occasion in which I was demonstrating how I chop a mortise. As I was working, I was prying off the top edge. I explained how it is ok to pry off the top of the mortise (but not the bottom) because it had no structural implications and would be invisible in the assembled joint. I said, “No one will ever even know it is there.” One listener, visibly disturbed, blurted out, “But you will!” Sometimes our values conflict with our ancestors’.
I’ve decided the best way to inform our woodworking consciences is to persistently publish photographs of period workmanship. For this reason, every issue of M&T contains a photo essay of period furniture with measurements listed. To show period workmanship in all kinds of furniture, we are consciously documenting different forms. There was the secretary in Issue One and the drop leaf table in Issue Two. In Issue Three, we will be looking at two period high chairs: one 18th century and one early 19th century. There are similarities and there are differences between the two. Although the slat-back 18th-century chair was clearly more hastily made, they both retain riving and tool marks.
For some, the handful of photos in each issue aren’t enough. As we’ve done previously, we will also be offering separately an eBook with all the photos from the shoot. We’ve been getting great feedback about these eBooks of photography and so we intend to keep that going.
We hope that publishing this information contributes to your growth as a woodworker. Don’t take my word for it. You can see this stuff with your own two eyes. These photographs might just be the best way to unburden hand tool users from the strict tolerances of industrial machinery.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s announcement of the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...
“Modern Revivalist Toolmaking: What Yesterday’s Tools Can Teach Us Today” by Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney featured in the upcoming Issue Three.
Technical innovation has smiled on the modern woodworker – combinations of castings, pulleys, blades, bits and all manner of motors, rigged in many ways, can flatten, cut, curve, bend or join boards of wood. They do so quickly, repeatably and, often, portably.
When woodworking switched its diet, from the manual to the mechanical, a lot changed. Joinery shifted in shape, better suited to rotating cutters than saws and chisels. So, too, did our methods of design, as we took advantage of flexible and industrious software, moving away from the pencil and drafting table. Simultaneously we turned away from proportion and the old, body-based measures, instead unifying and metrifying from a thousand systems to only a few, often losing proportion to the cold arithmetic of measurement.
And yet, a constancy of aesthetic and interest in well-made and fairly-proportioned furniture has remained. While ornament and proportion change, from William & Mary to Wegner & Maloof, the skilled craftspeople of yesterday and today still find beauty in the solidity and durability of well made goods, with the telltale signs of good design and consideration of the human form.
While so many modern woodworkers work to revive the practices of our pre-industrial woodworking, so, too, does the modern toolmaker work to facilitate the revival. With the advent of networked communities, even diffuse networks of hobbyists can discuss their needs in a central forum, and so, too, can the toolmaker make his goods available there. Toolmakers today find the digital marketplace enough to financially sustain what used to be strictly a local enterprise.
And through the game of generational telephone, or even better the discovery, retranslation and republishing of source materials, we remember the techniques of the past, more and more every day.
Sometimes, though, we hear the description, or see an illustration, of a tool that we no longer use, or a measure for which we have no analog. Many tools have survived total obscurity, in some barn in Maine or in the back of a cabinet shop in Michigan. So, too, have the design practices of the past survived, evidenced by a notched stick in a tomb or a passage in an old French book.
Through the reproduction or recreation of the past’s tools, the modern revivalist toolmaker makes available the knowledge and practices of the past. I’d like to share with you some of my own research, where I’ve worked to revive and reintroduce work of the past to contemporary workshops. In doing so, I have surprised myself, finding new uses and adaptations for many tools, even in concert with modern techniques and designs. The past is a rich mine of inspiration – all we need are the tools to work it.
-Brendan Gaffney, http://burn-heart.com
Stay tuned tomorrow for the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...
"Essential Human Work: Reimagining a Legendary School on the Coast of Maine" by: James McConnell and Michael Updegraff featured in Issue Three.
After nearly 40 years of teaching traditional hand skills, chairmaking, and green woodworking, Country Workshops is closing its doors. Started deep in the mountains of North Carolina in 1978 by Drew and Louise Langsner, the school has become an iconic epicenter of handcraft, and countless creative journeys have begun by venturing down the narrow gravel driveway.
This is not a lament or eulogy to the passing of an era, however. Kenneth Kortemeier and his wife Angela share the passion of the Langsners to teach these skills of "essential human work". Kenneth learned primitive skills from a Cherokee elder in North Carolina, worked as an intern at Country Workshops, apprenticed under legendary Welsh chairmaker John Brown, taught wooden boat building and seamanship, and built furniture and cabinets on commission, but his biggest undertaking lies ahead. The spirit of Country Workshops is being handed on by the Langsners to be replanted in a rural town on the Maine coast. The old Workshop's tools and benches have been transported north to be put back to work in the new Maine Coast Craft School, where the exclusive distribution of several top-quality Swedish toolmakers will continue.
Through interviews and narrative from North Carolina and Maine, we knew we had to share this compelling story. This kind of graceful, thoughtful transition is almost unheard of in the business world today. It clearly reflects the shared philosophy of Drew and Kenneth that asserts there is lasting value in teaching how to create objects that are simple, functional, and beautiful.
- Mike Updegraff
Stay tuned tomorrow for the next article upcoming in M&T Issue Three...
Issue Three T.O.C. - On the Trail of Two Cabinetmakers: Reconstructing the Careers of Samuel Wing and Tilly Mead
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Shelley Cathcart, Assistant Curator at Old Sturbridge Village. Shelley and her co-author, Amy Griffin (American Foundation Curatorial Fellow), have been researching the cabinet and chair making of two New England craftsmen. We are excited to publish this fresh research in M&T Issue Three, titled "On the Trail of Two Cabinetmakers: Reconstructing the Careers of Samuel Wing and Tilly Mead". We are confident this essay will help to advance our understanding of rural American cabinetmaking before the Industrial Revolution.
Interior of Samuel Wing’s Workshop, Sandwich, Massachusetts. November 1964
A new exhibition at Old Sturbridge Village, Planed, Grained, & Dovetailed: Cabinetmaking in Rural New England, explores the tools, products and livelihoods of rural cabinetmakers in the early 19th century. Stories of individual craftsmen or local partnerships are examined to reveal the man behind the workbench, his processes, products, and clientele. Inside the gallery the careers of two rural Massachusetts craftsmen – Samuel Wing (1774-1854) of Sandwich and Tilly Mead (1794-1849) of Hardwick – are compared through surviving material and physical evidence to situate the men in the canon of New England furniture makers. Both navigated the trade in ways that were typical during the first half of the 19th century. Like most rural craftsmen, they were primarily farmers with diverse sources of income, facing pressures of increased factory production with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. By exploring the narrative through a comparison of source material they left behind, it reveals unique approaches to the creation and maintenance of professional identity as a rural cabinetmaker.
Over fifty years ago Old Sturbridge Village was gifted the contents of Samuel Wing’s workshop, unveiling a vast material record of pre-industrial tools, patterns, furniture parts, and finished products. Account books, letters, and receipts reveal the versatility and entrepreneurial spirit of this coastal craftsman and chronicle the demands of his clientele. Interior images taken upon donation of Wing’s shop invite scholars to explore the interior and mechanics of an early 19th-century rural craftsman’s workshop. Even though Wing only practiced the trade for about 15 years, he left sufficient physical evidence to determine his production methods, style preferences, and technical strengths. Yet, the artifacts reveal few details about Wing’s personal life. The synthesis of documentary and material resources demonstrates his superior ability as a craftsman, but fails to reveal it as a means of self-definition.
The story of Hardwick’s Tilly Mead, depicted in a portrait by eminent decorative painter John Ritto Penniman, challenges researchers to recognize the contributions of a cabinetmaker whose surviving work is scarce. In lieu of a body of furniture, Mead left a trail of land transactions, patterns and graphic materials, some papers, architectural resources, and significant social connections. This evidence supports vivid conclusions about Mead’s personality and his aspirations in the thriving but competitive field of fancy painted furniture, but offer only hints of his actual products. Mead’s lively but meager career represents one cabinetmaker’s response to the fluid but unstable state of the trade in mid-19th century New England.
Letter from Ebenezer Swift, dated May 18, 1799, cites the demands of local clientele, imploring Mr. Wing to “give them chairs a good Green coler [sic]…& do get them dun [sic] as soon as you can…”
Juxtaposing the evidence available on these two craftsmen introduces specificity and nuance to general characterizations of New England cabinetmakers. In bringing their careers into the light, we find cause to re-evaluate assumptions about the knowledge, aspirations, and resourcefulness of rural artisans. At the same time, both men confronted industrial and economic changes that transformed the trade, forcing all cabinetmakers to reconsider their status. Adding unconventional sources to traditional furniture study enriches and refines our ever-evolving understanding of the cabinetmaking tradition in Massachusetts and the individuals who shaped it.
- Shelley Cathcart, Assistant Curator, Old Sturbridge Village
Stay tuned for the next Issue Three article announcement tomorrow….
Today, we begin releasing the table of contents for Issue Three. Each day we will describe one article from the upcoming issue to give you all taste of what’s to come. On Friday at Lie-Nielsen, we released the list of articles and heard lots of excited feedback about this upcoming issue. Mike and I keep pinching ourselves as we continue to get such talented and passionate authors. Stay tuned here at the blog as we announce each of the 12 articles that will be in Issue Three.
Without further ado… here is the first article:
“The Spring Pole Lathe: Design, Construction, and Use” by: Joshua Klein
Of all the work that I’ve demonstrated over the years there’s one thing that never fails to captivate an audience: the spring pole lathe. Every time I am working at this foot-powered lathe, people seem genuinely astonished that such a simple device can produce elegant craftsmanship. I’m usually asked if I invented the idea. The answer is, of course, “Absolutely not”. This reciprocal lathe using a cord wrapped around the workpiece has been in use for many centuries.
This is my second spring pole lathe. The first was a softwood lathe I built from the wonderful design by Roy Underhill. It worked for most smaller projects but I eventually wanted longer rails and more mass. When designing this new lathe, I combed through numerous resources. I relied primarily on Roubo’s discussion (translated by Don McConnell) as well as the Dominy example at Winterthur in combination with many other historic paintings and images.
This lathe is built of white oak and features drawbore mortise-and-tenon joinery. This build is more like timber framing than furniture making. Even though I prefer meat-powered tools for my furniture making, I show in this article how a cordless drill with Forstner bits made quick work of the large mortises.
If you have been interested in trying out a spring pole lathe but haven’t known where to start, this article was written for you. There is a wonderful satisfaction in turning beautiful beads, coves, and balusters all powered with the pump of your foot. This article also addresses common myths about pole lathes such as how exhausting it must be to pump the treadle and how it is only good for green wood. Neither of those things are true.
I hope this build gives you the final bit of confidence it takes to build your own spring pole lathe. There is nothing quite like hearing the wind in the trees carrying the “SCRIT, SCRIT” of the bevel engaging at each rotation. On top of that, the refreshingly humane surface it creates is nothing like the 10 million RPM electric sandpapered perfection machines offer us.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Issue Three article announcement…
“The central concern [of my own work] is encouragement – encouraging people to seek, to experiment, to design, to create and to dream.”
– Wm. S. Coperthwaite, A Handmade Life
There are few events that I look forward to more than Lie-Nielsen’s Open House. Every year, Tom Lie-Nielsen opens his doors and invites his fellow toolmakers to showcase their work. The list of guest demonstrators is always long and impressive. Hoards of people come out to this small town of Warren, Maine for a most unique fellowship with these hand tool fanatics. Visitors are able to handle and use the most amazing tools in the world all in one place. It would be easy to write a blog post all about the incredible craftsmanship at this event but, this time, I won’t. As Mike and I talked for two days straight with hundreds of passionate woodworkers, something even more incredible overshadowed our experience: the encouragement this community offers.
Over and over we had conversations with people that told us their lives were touched and profoundly changed by this hand tool community. They expressed appreciation for those who labor to teach craft skills and those who make tools to empower their creative work. I talked with some that told stories about specific years talking to specific people that forever changed the course of their life. I almost saw tears in a few eyes. (That is not hyperbole.)
It is humbling to be invited to participate in such an encouraging and supportive community of artisans. At events like these, there is no posturing, no one-upmanship. We all give and we all receive.
So, thank you, Tom, for your courageous and humble example of encouraging others. Over the years I’ve watched you, it has become clear that you share Coperthwaite’s central concern to build others up. This corner of the world is better place because of your generosity. We are all grateful and indebted.
Today, Mike and I are packing up for Lie-Nielsen’s Open House. This is always a highlight in our year because Tom throws such an awesome party. He is incredibly generous to us and we get to catch up with so many great friends we only get to see a few times a year. If you haven’t had a chance to try one of the tools you’ve been eyeing up from one of your favorite toolmakers, this is a great opportunity to do so. The list of vendors is huge - it seems like it gets bigger every year.
If you are going to be there, make sure to drop by our booth. We’ll have magazines, DVDS, t-shirts, posters, stickers, etc. And for those of you dying to see what’s in store for Issue Three, we are also going to be revealing the Table of Contents at our booth. We’ll have a display with the list of articles along with some sneak peek photography. No one besides our editorial team has seen this list. There, in person at Lie-Nielsen, is the first time this list will be revealed. After we get back next week, I’ll begin blogging about the articles. So, if you can’t make it to Maine this Friday or Saturday, hang tight until next week.
Pre-orders for Issue Three open August 1st.
I like to run. Specifically trails - the steeper, the better. Few things make me giddy like bombing down a rugged, mossy, meandering mountain path, or cresting the last rise before the summit and seeing the horizon burst into view. But as family and work obligations take precedent, almost all of my running takes place in the early morning hours. 5 a.m. is a lonely time, even in a place as predictably bustling as Acadia National Park in the summertime. I rarely see another soul.
What this means practically, though, is that when I happen across someone else out on the trails, I feel an instant connection with that person and the experience that we're both engaging. I want to stop and chat; I'm probably quite annoying. There is something intrinsically human about sharing effort, struggles, hard work, and in enjoying the reward of a task accomplished. We're not only wired to create, to strive, but to do so together.
Social media can feed into this impulse, for better or for worse. Taking the cynical view, one can see platforms like Instagram or Facebook as superficial means of self-promotion: a world of fake community and artificial avatars, where woodworking projects are presented in photoshopped perfection and my amazing breakfast omelette is studio-photographed. This can certainly be the case, and the stereotype of staring zombielike at your phone, thumbs sharing furiously on "social" media while ignoring all the real humans around you, is tragically common. But there can be real benefit here, too. I can't begin to number the folks who have told us of the inspiration they've received in following M&T online, and Joshua and I have received orders of magnitude more encouragement from people we'd have no chance of connecting with aside from this technology.
I was reflecting on this very fact during our Nicholson bench build with our new friend Robell, who hails from Georgia. While we worked, we discussed such weighty matters as barefoot running, the surpassing excellence of Ethiopian coffee, family life, even a bit of hand-tool woodworking... all thanks to a connection made via social media. I personally have stepped into uncharted waters (for me) in regards to pursuing different hand skills thanks to folks who know what they're doing and who generously share their knowledge through social media.
But we have to keep things real. Don't count your community in numbers of Instagram followers. Make every effort to meet folks face-to-face. Organize spoon carving get-togethers. Seek out your local craftspeople, and look for ways that you can help aspiring woodworkers nearby. Handworks 2017 was wonderful for me in this regard, being able to actually shake hands with people I knew vaguely from digital images. I can truly count some of those folks as friends now.
The fulfilling sense of community that comes through working together is the reason behind our building those huge workbenches. We have a vision of sharing our new space with handfuls of fellow woodworkers, generating massive piles of shavings while discussing the merits of single-origin coffee or double-iron planes. We want to grow this hand tool woodworking community in a way that's genuine, that's real.
With that in mind, come see us at the Lie-Nielsen Open House this coming weekend, July 7th and 8th! It is a terrific opportunity to connect with fellow craftspeople and to check out skillful demonstrations and really, really cool tools. Hope to see you there!
Yesterday morning Robell, Mike, and I met at the studio to pick up where we left off on the bench build. We had just begun fitting stretcher tenons into their mortises at the end of day one so we picked back up there in the morning. When we cut the tenons, we followed Mike’s mantra “When in pine, leave the line” as pine is so great at compressing when joinery is assembled. Because we intentionally left them a hair thick, they almost all needed some paring to slide home.
Then we began laying out the bridle joints for the rails joining the top of the legs. We cut out the stock to length and transferred the exact shoulder-to-shoulder width from the stretchers below. The easiest way to lay this out is to choose your tenon width based on your stock size and then mark all the tenons with a marking gauge off the reference face. With the tenons scribed, set the rail on the leg to determine the reveal that looks nice to your eye. Holding the rail in that place, transfer the two tenon gauge lines onto the leg stock with knife stabs. Then reset the gauge fence to these knife marks and scribe the mortise placement on all the mortises.
Because these bridle tenon cheeks were approximately 3.5” x 4.5”, I decided to use my 4 tpi rip saw. It was pretty incredible. The saw was so aggressive and sharp that I actually felt like I had to slow down and hold back. With careful attention, it made sawing this large joinery speedy and enjoyable. Once the two walls of the bridle mortise were sawn, we bored a hole at the baseline halfway from each side. That technique severed 95% of the waste in less than a minute. From there, it was simply a matter of cleaning up the mortise bottom with a chisel. We made sure to slightly undercut the bottom of the mortise from both sides to make fitting easier.
It was interesting to find that during this process, we found ourselves all either sitting on the low “Roman” bench on kneeling on the work on the floor. There was no conscious decision to do this but we all found ourselves gravitating toward these postures. It wasn’t until we took a photo of all three of us working on these boring and chopping tasks that it became obvious. It was kind of ironic to see three guys sitting on their work down low surrounded by empty tall workbenches. After realizing this, we all talked about how certain operations like chopping, boring, and some sawing are such that you want to be able to get your body directly over the work. When boring at a tall bench, I always feel like I want to climb up on top of the bench and lean down onto the brace (i.e. breast auger). It was an interesting revelation to us. I will definitely be more conscious of this from now on.
Once we fit the bridle joints, we bored the ½” drawbore holes and rived and pared the oak pins. At the end of this second day, we reached the most fun part: drawboring! We heated up the hot hide glue and assembled one joint at a time. Once the glue was applied on both tenon cheeks and their mating mortise walls, we slid the tenons in and drove the pins. There are many satisfying moments in woodworking but near the top of that list is the moment the shoulder cinches tight with a subtle glue squeeze out as you drive the massive pins into the joint. It doesn’t get much better than that.
We trimmed the pins, and pared them flush before sweeping up and putting tools away at the end of the day. We also took an opportunity to clamp a sideboard on the legs and lay the 2” thick near top board on to mock up the final proportions. These benches are going to be massive and awesome. It is fun dreaming about all the work that is going to happen at these benches over the years.
We’ll be putting these bench parts in storage until the new shop goes up in September. Then we’ll build them right into the walls. We all felt great about our progress on this project and had such a blast working, conversing, and laughing together. Mike and I are looking forward to Robell’s next trip to Maine. (We’ve already begun planning that next project together.) A big thank you goes out to Robell for his enthusiasm, hard work, and careful craftsmanship. We couldn’t have gotten this far without you, Robell. Thank you so much!
What a way to spend these two days!
Yesterday was a blast. Mike and I met Robell yesterday morning at the shop and after visiting over coffee, we discussed the chicken scratch and doodles we called “plans” and pawed through the rough lumber we’d set aside for this project. The benches are designed around the material I had stacked and stickered in my yard so it took Mike and I a bit the other day to choose just the right pieces.
Mike and Robell cut the legs to length while I ripped out and planed the stretcher stock. We then planed the best face and two sides of the 4x6 legs and choose the orientation and position of the legs that looked best while avoiding placing mortises on knots. Because the tenons are 1” thick, we bored the waste with auger bits to final depth and then cleaned up the walls with chisels. Most of the mortising went smooth with the exception of a few surprise pin knots and a broken off screw inside one of Mike’s mortises. That’s the downside of using reclaimed lumber. He put a nice chip in his edge and then spent at least 15 minutes digging to pry the screw out out. Not the end of the world but definitely a nuisance.
We had two guys chopping mortises while the other cut the tenons on the stretchers. We all took turns at each task in order to keep it fresh. That is usually a risky idea because it’s easy to mix things up with all that changing around but we made it through without any mistakes.
Before Mike headed home, we were fitting the tenons into the mortises. I got one pair of legs fit before Robell and I called it quits for the day. The first day of a build is always a bit slow because of all the planning that needs to happen. Once things are in motion, though, it’s all smooth sailing. Today we’ll cut bridle joints at the top of the legs and glue and drawbore the leg units. Then we’ll look at fitting the side and top boards. At that point they’ll start to looking like workbenches!
Because they’re going to be built-ins, we aren’t going to do final assembly on these now. This means the pressure is off as we don’t have any specific goal for today. All the final assembly and fitting will happen later when they’re installed in the new shop. These two days with Robell are just about getting a really good head start on the project. After showing up this morning at the shop, everyone is enthusiastic and ready to go. It looks like it’s going to be another awesome day.
Today and tomorrow we have a guest working with us. Robell from Atlanta, Georgia is spending some time up here in Maine and offered his help with some projects around here.
Even though we’ve been working on the Tables video and a few conservation projects, the rest of this week we’re going take some time to build a few new benches. Yes, more benches. Two 12-foot benches, in fact. These are not destined for this 14’ x 17’ shop, though. They are being built for our new shop that will be raised this September. More on that later but for now just imagine 200-year-old hand-hewn chestnut. Yes. We’re excited.
Today, we are going to begin building two English joiners’ (Nicholson) benches that will be eventually fastened to the shop walls. Many period shops had their benches built into the walls (Luther Sampson in Duxbury, Mass., Samuel Wing of Sandwich, Mass., et al.) This offers numerous advantages, not the least of which is space saving. These benches will be 12’ long to accommodate two people at each bench. We hope to be able to use these (along with other benches) to offer hand tool workshops in near future. If you picture yourself coming out to Mid Coast Maine for a 5-day hand-tool workshop, let us know what kinds of classes you would be most interested in.
I am heading out to meet the guys at the shop soon. How are three guys going to build two 12’ workbenches in a 230 sq ft room? I don’t know. I’ll report back at the end of the day to let you know how we fared.
Passion and competency need to get acquainted with one another before much good can happen.
I met my wife in the press room of our college newspaper, but ours was not a typical love story. I was a section editor and she was a writer. For the first year we knew each other, the only time we would talk on the phone was when I was assigning stories, or calling late into the evening to see where a story was. She probably thought I was being a jerk, but in truth, I had risen to the editorial position quite accidentally and I was struggling to do the job well. My passion for the work was not matched by my competency. At least not at that moment.
She left to study in Cheltenham for a year, and when she came back we had both grown. I was a better editor, and she no longer wanted to write for me. We barely recognized each other.
It's funny how life sometimes throws you in the deep end of the pool. It's amazing how sometimes that works out. Two years ago, Joshua and I barely knew each other. I had been following along with his work on Jonathan Fisher and when he announced the development of Mortise & Tenon I was excited. I knew the magazine was going to bring something really special to the worlds it would touch and as soon as subscriptions were available I was in. I really wanted this magazine to succeed.
At some point in the middle of all of that, I happened to casually mention to Joshua that I had some experience in editing if he needed any help getting issue one off the ground. I officially expected to hear nothing more, but a few months later I got an email that said something to the effect of: “If you're serious, let's talk.” That was November of 2015 and our first issue shipped somewhere between January and February of 2016. There were a lot of late nights and extra pots of coffee involved.
In October, we hope of have issue three on your doorsteps and let me tell you that this is no small thing. It means that we will be shipping two issues in one year and moving to a spring and fall publishing schedule. We have grown in so many ways over the last two years, but we feel called to this work and passionate about what we do. We’re also thankful for the passion that our readership has shown from the start. Mortise & Tenon is a small team and that means a significant amount of work for each of us, but none of that would be possible without each and every person who has picked up up a copy and found something valuable in it. We are all part of this work.
We want to be the sort of magazine where passion and competency meet. We want you to learn, but also be inspired. Maybe it's learning that a dovetail doesn't have to be airtight to hold a chest together for 100 years or what not to do when you pick up that antique banister back chair from the flea market. Either way, we want that to inspire passion in you so that you go back to your own work with love and guts. Mortise & Tenon is a place where all of that comes together. We’re learning something everyday and we hope that you are too.
- Jim McConnell
My oldest boy, Eden, loves experimental archaeology. After the occasional primitive technology video binge, he heads outside to living it out in our woods. Ever since Mike and I started making videos for M&T, Eden’s been asking to make his own instructional videos. A month or so ago, we had a spur of the moment inspiration and Eden demonstrated how he’s been making his own bow and arrows with stone tools he shaped himself. This video is no joke. I had no part in this at all except filming. I actually didn’t even know he was getting this involved in this stuff. It’s pretty neat to see an eight-year-old come up with this stuff on his own. I also adore this video because his little long-haired-hippie brother tags along the whole time, just like every other of the week. They are a sweet team.
Without further ado, here is Eden Klein teaching us how he makes bow and arrows.
P.s. Please forgive the quiet audio - I wasn’t prepared at all for this shoot. You'll have to turn it up.
This past weekend, I taught a 2-day workshop at Lie-Nielsen we called “Cut the Cord: Build a Table with Hand Tools”. My goal for the weekend was to instill a pre-industrial mindset and approach into the minds of the 15 students in attendance. The project was a taper-legged table from rough cut white pine (a simplified version of the table in our upcoming "Tables" video in our Apprenticeship series ). They needed to work fast - no time for fussy nitpicking. To set the tone, we looked at some examples of pre-industrial work and then watched a brief early 20th-century film of Swedish woodworkers. They were all blown away at the workmanlike pace these guys kept. Then I sent them to their benches with a stack of lumber.
The students worked their butts off. Most of them had never done woodworking like this before. At the end of day one, there was a mountain of shavings that I’m told surpassed any other workshop they’ve had. I was impressed.
The heart of this class was learning efficient stock prep with hand tools, working with reference faces, and drawbore mortise-and-tenon joinery. It was fun to see students relieved to find that usually the most efficient way to do each step is also the simplest. I joked about how my approach was “very scientific” and “calculated” as I undercut most everything and ripped wood off with the foreplane.
At the end of the second day, many of the students were drawboring their joints. If we had a few more hours, we would have had several standing tables. It seems everyone went home happy and exhausted. They told me they learned so much and were so glad they came. Mission accomplished.
I loved this class and am working to refine it to make it even better so that students can get even more out of it. There has been some talk about possibly doing it again next year. No promises but it would be fun.
Thanks to Tom and Deneb at Lie-Nielsen for having me. I am honored to be able to teach at such an incredible hub of knowledge and skill. If you can make it out to any of their workshops, I highly recommend it.
Today began the second week of the Apprenticeship: Tables video shoot. It’s taking us longer than the Foundations video because I am doing more than showing techniques – I’m actually building a full piece.
The table I’m building is loosely based on one I fell in love with at Old Sturbridge Village. It has the back legs angled beneath the table’s single drop leaf. It also has ‘H’ stretchers between the legs. On the original, the drawer is at the end rail but I decided to put mine at the front. It is a wonderfully quirky table that incorporates so many of the features of period table construction. It’s perfect for this video.
The first five days of the shoot, I got the stock prepped, legs tapered, joinery cut, and stretchers installed. Documenting while building is a painstaking process because it more than doubles the build time. For each operation, there are anywhere between 2-5 angles we try to capture. Every moment Mike is moving the tripod and refocusing the camera, I stand still waiting to continue working. You can imagine how this disrupts the workflow. We have gotten into a groove, though, and things are moving along at a steady pace.
Over the next few days, I will be completing the drawer, adding breadboards to the top and leaf, and painting it. The end of the week we will be gathering miscellaneous shots including an interview to open and close the video (as in Foundations). This week will be another full one for sure. Mike will be taking the next three weeks or so for editing while I finish up a few conservation projects in the studio.
Throughout the filming process, so many teaching points have emerged that I didn’t have time to cover in the first video. While there are certain tasks that overlap, the two videos definitely cover a lot of different territory. Foundations is good for general techniques but that can only take you so far. It’s so important to see this work done in the context of a build. I’m delighted with how this video is shaping up and can’t wait to get it into your hands. We expect to have it available this July.
After shipping out orders yesterday morning, Mike and I spent time reviewing the outline and logistics for a video shoot next week. We’ve been discussing this second video in the Apprenticeship series since we released the Foundations video last year. The idea behind this series is to bring you into the shop to learn the skills every pre-industrial cabinetmaker learned. It is designed to teach you the skills and mindset to approach any project without elaborate full-scale plans or expensive (and dangerous) machines. Rather than show you how to build one specific special piece, we decided to approach this series the way you’d learn in a real apprenticeship setting: you learn the form.
This teaching model is perfect for what I’ve long wanted to convey. I think there are too many videos and articles today on building one specific object. I’d rather enable woodworkers to grasp the form so that they can build whatever size or version they can imagine.
Rather than draw plans for every single commissioned object, period artisans typically approached each piece the same. “You want a table? What wood? How long? Got it.” A table is a table. Under the master craftsman, you’d learn the form’s construction and all the rest is decoration. There are a few variations in construction but most period tables share the same guts.
The video we will be shooting next week is all about building tables with hand tools. Although I won’t be building every table possible, I’ve picked a design that has most of the variations you may encounter. Any features not incorporated into this table will be taught as a side tutorial. The unique focus in our videos is teaching the efficiencies and tolerances of pre-industrial process. Mike and I talk so much about not fretting over tool marks in secondary surfaces but seeing it in the context of a build is important. It’s one thing to tell you not to worry about tear out but it’s another to show you exactly how much tear out is normal and where it’s found.
Pre-industrial cabinetmakers didn’t screw around in their shops and neither do I. This video is about working efficiently with simple tools to achieve real results. It is a powerful feeling to build furniture with a few wooden planes and saws. And anyone can do this. I want you to see how simple this process is.
We rearranged a few shelves in the studio yesterday to install my Nicholson bench for the build. It now has a workholding peg system I copied from Jonathan Fisher’s fascinating workbench because I have fallen in love with it for stock prep. I wrote about this system in the Jonathan Fisher manuscript (which is in Chris’s hands right now) but I had to incorporate it into this video because I want to show how simple and awesome it is. Fisher’s bench is the only known extant example of the peg workholding shown in the 14th-century Nuremberg paintings. There is so much to learn from this way of working. Stay tuned.
So the studio is cleared of clutter and the lumber awaits us at the bench. It all begins Monday morning.