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This morning the crew gathered at 7:00 and devised a plan for raising the next three bents. The members between the bents are connected to each other with a 24’ long joist and so it was assembled as a unit and raised into place with a manual lift. The next bent was assembled on horses on the ground and carried into place by Matt via telehandler. This process continued all the way through to the fourth and final bent. Happily, there is little to report on because everything went so smooth. Even the twist in the joist between bent two and three was easily pulled into proper alignment.
By the end of the day, we had all four bents assembled. Tomorrow, we plan to put a temporary deck on the second floor and install the 26’ long plates with their braces onto the eve walls. With the plate in place, we can finish pegging the bents together and release the come alongs. After that it’s rafters and ridge pole! We’ll see how far we get tomorrow.
Tonight we feast and then rest before the next exciting step!
Today was the first day of the shop raising and, wow, was it momentous. The day started with finishing the new sill Luke, Matt, and Isaac began the day before. This 8” wide by 10” tall sill sits on top of the deck to raise the ceiling height. It is joined in the traditional manner with pegged mortise and tenon joints. After the sill was assembled and bolted to the deck, we began assembling the first (rearmost) bent.
We assembled the joints on sawhorses and drilled and pegged each tenon. Peg sizes varied from 1-3/8” to 1” to 3/4” depending on the joint. Because the pegs Luke purchased weren’t available in the odd 1-3/8” size that this frame was made with, Mike and I spent a good chunk of our day shaving the pegs to final size. Once the bent was fully assembled, Luke and Isaac measured the tenon spacing and braced the assembly with 2x4s to keep them in position.
Matt carried the bent with the telehandler as Luke directed it into the mortises. It was pretty incredible to watch these two work together. Their subtle but effective communication showed that they’ve been doing this for a long time. With each tenon slipping seamlessly into its mortise, the first wall was standing.
Between the physical labor these guys have gone through and the stress of crucial measurements working out, I think everyone working on this project was feeling wiped at the end of the day. But the day went off without a hitch. Tomorrow, bright and early we begin assembling the second bent.
After Mike and I got all the granite blocks squared and leveled on the gravel pad, we fit hardware cloth over the ventilation spacing between the blocks to keep critters out. This cloth was bent around top and bottom of the blocks and glued in place with construction adhesive to ensure there was no way anything was getting under there.
We laid six-mil plastic over the gravel inside the foundation to seal off future moisture release. Then, on top of the granite we half lapped a pressure-treated 2x6 to overhang the blocks by 1” on all sides. The conventional TJI deck was then constructed on top of that. These man-made joists are unpleasant to work with but are functional and quick to assemble. With the I-beams in place, we cut ½” plywood to lay between them. These were then screwed to the beams. On top of that, we laid 2” blue foam that we then sealed with Great Stuff spray foam to close up air gaps. I’ve seen this blue foam/Great Stuff method called “poor man’s spray foam”.
With the blue foam installed, we laid the subfloor. After applying a bead of construction adhesive, we screwed 3/4” Advantech down to the framing. We were happy to find that at every stage of the process things turned out square. We joked that all our mistakes must have compounded to cancel each other out.
Despite the purist strain some of us may have, I think we made the right choice. With this floating block foundation, it seemed best to avoid a central support point and so, to be able to span the 25’ of the deck without sagging, TJI joists made the most sense. Although not particularly fun to do or interesting to discuss at length, this deck system will give us a solid, draft-free floor. Once it’s buried in top floor and exterior sheathing I’ll never have to look at it again. I’ll just enjoy the benefits of its performance for the rest of my life.
Luke and part of his crew arrived from Vermont this afternoon with the final trailer loads of the frame. We spent time getting to know each other and they looked over the site before heading off to their rental house. They’ll be spending tomorrow putting a few finishing touches on the frame’s sills in preparation for Monday. Then, over the following few days, it all goes up.
All photographs by Jessica Smolinksi. Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery.
Last Friday’s visit to the Yale Furniture Study went off without a hitch. The seven-hour drive was pleasant and quiet, bringing me into New Haven 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I hauled my tools and sample table parts down into the Study’s workshop and got things set up.
I began the presentation by exploring three table examples from Yale’s collection. We had the tables upside down so that everyone could take a turn looking at the joinery under the table. I had the attendees specifically examine the tenon layout lines and the tenons’ pins protruding to the inside. To illustrate that these tables are constructed in the same way, we chose two vernacular painted tavern tables as early as 1730 to compare to a mahogany inlaid drop-leaf table made somewhere around 1810. The construction was the same: drawbored rails into four legs with a top.
Then we went into the shop and I showed them how that is done. I had a small table under construction and demonstrated each stage of preparing legs, chopping a mortise, planing the taper, prepping the rails, cutting the tenons, fitting the joint, and drawboring it together.
It was fun to hear feedback after it was over (I went well beyond the allotted time). The attendees expressed how seeing these originals and then watching the process was eye-opening for them. I trust that the speed of this handwork was conveyed. One of the biggest disservices these kinds of presentations can give is to feed the myth that craftsmen were slow and careful artists or that hand tools are slow. Nothing could be further from the truth and so I think it’s important that anyone demonstrating these skills should have sweat on their brow. It’s only when people see this kind of hustling shop practice that they can begin to get a picture of how period artisans worked.
I was honored to be invited back to this place for demonstration and look forward to next time. If you haven’t been to the study yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Prioritize a visit. My interview with museum assistant, Eric Litke, in Issue One discusses this place in depth. 800 items of furniture all arranged by form chronologically. You’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Mike and I have finally settled on a logo for M&T. We’ve spent two years going back and forth trying every idea under the sun: plane shavings, hand planes, joinery dissections, etc. None of it worked. We needed something dead simple that eluded to (but didn’t clobber you over the head with) the heartbeat of M&T. We knew the most effective logos (such as those of Apple, Nike, and Target) can be drawn in a few lines and are recognizable from across the room. After many abandoned designs, we decided on the one above. This drawing is from the title page of London-based painter and engraver William Hogarth’s 1753 book, The Analysis of Beauty. The image is simple, powerful, and beautiful. But what does it symbolize?
The Meaning Behind the Symbol
In 1745, William Hogarth painted a self-portrait with his pug. Lying on the painter’s palette prominently set in the foreground was an S-shaped three-dimensional line with an explanatory caption below: “The Line of Beauty”. Hogarth later said that “the bait soon took” and many artists came to him to inquire of the meaning resulting in “freequent explanations and disputes”. Hogarth made the case that the waving line, found all throughout nature, was “ornamental and pleasing” requiring a “lively movement of the hand” to draw. It was the Line of Beauty.
Hogarth expounded his case in The Analysis of Beauty which he said was “written with a view of fixing the fluctuating IDEAS OF TASTE”. The book set forth six principals of beauty: FITNESS, VARIETY, UNIFORMITY, SIMPLICITY, INTRICACY, and QUANTITY. He explained that these elements work together to create true beauty. In his view, although all these principals were to be balanced together, the waving and serpentine lines made the biggest visual impact. Hogarth’s biographer, Ronald Paulson, has explained that the Line of Beauty was “a synecdoche for his theory and its crucial terms of variety, intricacy, and pleasure. It was his theory reduced to a hieroglyph.”
Not all waving lines are created equal, however. To illustrate the ideal curvature, Hogarth showed seven cabriole chair legs, the first three of which were “mean and poor” (too straight) and the last three of which were “gross and clumsy” (too curvy). The ideal curvature for a cabriole leg was depicted as number four.
Because of the importance of the waving line in his system, Hogarth composed an illustration that sat on the title page of Analysis. This emblem depicted the serpentine Line of Beauty set inside a transparent glass pyramid atop a plinth inscribed with the word “VARIETY”. Of the pyramid shape, Hogarth wrote, “Observe, that a gradual lessening is a kind of varying that gives beauty. The pyramid diminishing from its basis to its point [is a] beautiful form… There is no object composed of straight lines, that has so much variety, with so few parts, as the pyramid: and it is its constantly varying from its base gradually upwards in every situation of the eye.”
One scholar has said this symbol was “emblematic of and embodying Hogarth’s ideas espoused in his work” and was “a synthetic visual demonstration of the argument of his text.” In his preface, Hogarth explained how the two elements in the logo come together to symbolize the essence of beauty: “the triangular form of the glass, and the serpentine line itself, are the two most expressive figures that can be thought of to signify not only beauty and grace, but the whole order of form.”
We at M&T celebrate the SIMPLICITY of historic craft process, eschewing elaborate machining processes and complicated jigs. A major part of that includes embracing the VARIETY (in dimension, tool mark texture, etc) inherent in hand tool work. We’ve decided to adopt the drawing (sans the plinth) as M&T’s official logo because it perfectly depicts the beautiful fusion of SIMPLICITY and VARIETY.
This logo, shown on the first page of Issue Three, will also be featured on our merchandise in the future. Yes, stickers and shirts are coming.
Hand tools are not slow.
This afternoon, after Mike and I ditched the granite work because of a downpour, I went to the shop to prepare table parts for a presentation I am doing on Friday at the Yale University Furniture Study (Registration full, sorry). The presentation is titled “Efficient Handcraft” and will focus on pre-industrial methods for efficient furniture making. I will bring parts of a table at each stage of the process so that I can demonstrate the whole process in the time allotted. This afternoon’s prep involved ripping out two legs and two rails from rough-sawn pine, planing both legs square, laying out and chopping two of the mortises, tapering one of the legs on two sides, planing the rails’ faces, laying out and cutting four tenons, fitting two of the joints, shaping pins and drawboring one of the joints, and cutting and paring the two pins flush.
This took me one hour. And I figure this base is almost 1/3 of the way complete (i.e. ready for finish).
This time in the shop reminded me of two things:
- Our “Tables” Apprenticeship video is still under production. It’s proven to be much more of a time consumer than we anticipated. With the new shop raising, and shipping Issue Three out at the end of the month, we will be hard-pressed to get much time to work on it. But every spare minute Mike has, he’s editing that video. Promise.
- I will again be teaching the “tables” weekend workshop from this summer at Lie-Nielsen this next summer. We don’t have dates yet and they don’t have their workshops listed yet. I will also be teaching a five-day version of this class at Port Townsend School of Woodworking in spring. Stay tuned for all those details.
Now that Issue Three is at the printer and my edits to the Fisher book are complete, Mike and I have begun getting things ready for the new M&T shop frame to arrive on the 18th. We started the morning staring at a pile of granite foundation blocks. We gathered small log rounds, pry bars, and all other manner of tools to muscle the 100 linear feet of granite into place on the gravel pad. After we got a few pieces in place, a stone mason friend of mine, Ken stopped over on a lead from a neighbor. He showed up to generously share his experience and knowledge of the finer points of moving large stone. With his help, we made pretty quick work of it.
We squared up the corners and began fine tuning the straight lines by the end of the day. At that point, we began shooting ideas around for the best way to determine level on these blocks. As the words were still in our mouths, another good friend of mine, Adam drove up and shouted, “Hey! What are you guys doing?” “Building a new shop. Come over and help!”
After parking his truck, Adam joined in our planning session and announced that he has an antique transit that we could use. “Do you want me to go get it?” he asked. Are you kidding me? Of course!
Adam drove up the road to his house to retrieve the transit and immediately set it up on site. I’ve never seen one of these things at work. Pretty cool. Within 15 minutes, we had level measured on all four corners. Tomorrow (in the rain, probably) Mike and I will level the blocks and put the few remaining in place. Once the blocks are leveled, we will build a conventionally-framed deck that the shop will sit on. We’ve got to hustle because the 18th is not that far away!
As we work on this part of the project, Luke Larson and his crew at Green Mountain Timber Frames have been restoring the frame. The 24’ x 26’ beech and chestnut hand-hewn frame was built in Pawlet, Vermont around the year 1800. In the 1980s, it was given to a local Grange to use as their meeting hall. There was a lot of gutting work done at that time but no one messed with the frame.
About a year ago, Luke purchased the house (read his blog entry about it here) and he and his crew carefully disassembled it for restoration. The frame was in great shape with the exception of the rafters and ridge beam, which suffered fire and leak damage. When I found out about this frame and discussed it with Luke, he asked what I'd like to replace the rafters with. I told him I wanted old material, as close to the original roof system as possible. He did some digging and came up with a five-sided pine ridge beam almost the exact same size as well as round cedar rafters from a barn in Addison, Vt. virtually identical to the original. He and his crew have replicated the original roof system using these reclaimed materials. They’ve taken great care to leave the original surfaces unmarred. They’ve also de-nailed and washed all the 1-1/4”-thick sheathing. As Luke put it, “There is nothing like the patina of old boards.” Totally agree.
The old stock roof sheathing was then laid out for optimum placement and labeled. This will make reattaching this sheathing after the frame is raised a breeze. They’ve also added collar ties to the gable ends and braces on the first floor to strengthen the frame even more.
Mike and I are beside ourselves excited about this frame. We plan to leave the interior unfinished with roughsawn old boards and the frame completely exposed. All the insulation will be built on the outside of the frame and then exterior sheathing attached to that. From the inside, it will look like an 18th-century workshop in all its rough-hewn glory. I’ve also purchased a pile of antique window sashes (with wavy glass) that we will be using.
Besides a quick trip down to do a presentation at the Yale Furniture Study this Friday, this is the rest of our year. We will be working on this over the winter, hoping to be completely moved in by spring. We’ll see.
This is to be the new M&T headquarters. In this shop, our magazine will be created, our videos will be filmed, and our workshops will take place. As goofy as it sounds, this is a dream come true. This frame exceeds all my hopes for a little shop of my own on my property.
We will be documenting this project extensively, so if antique timber frame restoration is something you’re interested in, follow along here and on our Instagram page. It promises to be a fun ride.
Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from one of my students at Lie-Nielsen this June. Adam finished his table and wrote up these thoughts about his time at the class.
“The planned obsolescence of modern consumerism is a real tragedy. I encourage you to rebel against this.” ~Joshua Klein
After reading Christopher Schwarz’s The Anarchist’s Tool Chest cover to cover, an obsession began. This eventually led me to take Joshua Klein’s “Cut-The-Cord” class at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks this June. Joshua, whether he realizes or not, has played an integral role in shaping my thoughts and ideals about woodworking since my very first project not long ago.
After taking my first-ever passes with a handplane at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Philadelphia, I went straight home and searched the internet for hand-tool workshops I could sign up for. Joshua’s “Cut-the-Cord” workshop stuck out like a sore thumb. This was exactly what I was after: pre-industrial woodworking. I have long held beliefs that what industrialism has done to music, art, communities, and our only livable planet has been painfully atrocious. I recognize the monumental improvements in health care and quality of life that it has given us as well, I’m just not sure we need so much damn stuff.
I set out the next weekend building my first project, which was the first project from Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Apprentice - a folding workbench. I think I heard the sawmill owner chuckle a little bit as I walked away with a stack of oak. I took my very dull 5 ½ tpi Disston and set to ripping 8/4 oak on a couple of downturned five gallon buckets. Hours later, I had a wobbled, rough, sad piece of wood. After hours of planing with a no. 5 set to take a very thin shaving I had four very out-of-square pitiful legs. OK, so, I need some guidance. Watching old episodes of the Woodwright’s shop provided oodles of encouragement (and happiness), but some information was assumed. That’s what I was missing. I emailed Joshua some photos of my workbench legs and asked him if I would be ready to take his class. After a few back-and-forths and some helpful encouragement, I was signed up and looking forward to June.
Joshua began the class by having us examine several examples of pre-industrial tables as well as the table he recently built. What an eye-opener to see this stuff in person. It gave new meaning to what it means to be made by hand. We watched a short film showing pre-industrial woodworkers from Sweden. It was amazing to see their speed, and how cavalier they were with banging home joinery. The class continued with Joshua demonstrating how to make the legs and rails of our table. His shavings were passed around the class and everyone was in awe at the incredible thickness he got from his fore plane. My goodness, I’ve been doing this wrong and absurdly inefficiently. (My fore plane got a thorough opening of its mouth when I got home as well as an even more pronounced camber on the iron.) Joshua showed us his planing technique, explained the concept of reference surfaces, and ripped and smoothed a leg. Then he said “OK, now go make 4 legs and 4 rails!! Work quick, time is of the essence!” The rails were fairly easy to get roughed out and the pine stock that we were working with was beautiful. Then came the legs. This is where a freshly sharpened saw is a life saver. I looked around the room at one point and everyone was drenched in sweat. Not many were talking, but all had smiles and the satisfaction that comes from this hand work. By early afternoon, we were getting close to having the rails and legs finished and Joshua began demonstrating how to lay out the joinery.
It’s important to grasp the fact that none of us had plans. We did our best to eliminate using math and pencil marks - everything got knifed in and the dimensions came from the work itself. The only time I used a ruler during the entire process of building this table was when using the ruler trick to sharpen plane irons.
Day 2 began with chopping mortises, lining up joinery, planing, and sawing. It was glorious. I got my last mortise chopped and then we stopped for a drawboring demonstration from Joshua. He assembled one joint. It was a beautiful sight to see the pin suck the tenon shoulder right up against the mortise. By the end of the second day I had the front and the back drawbored and assembled. I found it a great help when switching gears or tasks in the project to sit down and look and think before whacking into something. We were moving as fast as we could, but there are parts of this project that require precision. That’s the trick: knowing when to be precise and when things can be left rough. That’s the true understanding of period tolerances. Another lesson I learned was to stop hitting the drawbore pin just before splitting the leg. This requires a careful attention and listening. The resonance of the pin as it’s being driven in should tell you something. When that resonance stops and a deadened thunk is heard, that’s it. Put the wham-er-doodle down and walk away.
When it hit 4:00 p.m. it was time to pack up. We said our goodbyes, thanked the LN crew and Joshua for an amazing experience and the incredible amount learned and gained. I can safely say that this experience changed the way I’ll work wood for the rest of my life.
-Adam Eisenreich (@oatsandtoads)
Editor’s Note: Robell wrote this post several weeks ago, soon after he came up to help with the Nicholson bench build. Because I’ve been out straight getting Issue Three ready, I haven’t had a moment to put this up on the blog until now. Mike and I loved having Robell in the shop with us and we look forward to the next time he can come up. The following are Robell’s reflections on his time working with us.
It is often intimidating meeting people you admire from afar. That was the case for me when I met Joshua and Mike. Having been a reader of M&T since the first issue, I reached out and asked if I could spend some time working with them. Even though they didn’t know me besides from a few photographs of my work, they said yes. As I biked down the craggy Maine coast to meet them at the shop on the first day, I was nervous. Would I be taken seriously? Would our personalities vibe?
These worries can be heightened for me because there are exceptionally few people of color represented in the world of fine furniture. As the son of immigrants from Africa, which has its own amazing but different woodworking tradition, I sometimes feel like an outsider.
My nerves quickly dissipated after I pulled into the driveway and saw 12-foot boards hanging out the back of Joshua’s minivan. Conversation came easy and authentically over the days we worked together. We discussed New England’s Whoopie Pie rivalries, the enormous amount of labor that goes into pre-industrial furniture making, and the work songs that woodwrights would sing together on the job. We even tried to come up with a song of our own - a futile but hilarious exercise. But most of the time we spoke in saw strokes and mallet blows, allowing the language of shared physical effort to connect us.
The kindness and warmth that I experienced with Joshua and Mike echoed throughout Maine’s woodworking community. From Skip Brack at the legendary Hulls Cove Tool Barn, to employees and vendors at the Lie-Nielsen Open House, graciousness abounded. Folks were eager to share their woodworking knowledge and experiences, enthusiastically welcoming me into their world. One would think that in a place like Maine where woodworkers are plentiful, they would be at each other’s throats competing for work. Maybe some are. But for me, it felt as if the dominant culture was one of teaching, learning, and sharing. It was truly and deeply inspiring.
In the weeks since my visit, I have been thinking about what it means to build a vibrant woodworking community in Atlanta. I’ve come away more convinced than ever that supporting each other is the key to our success. I’m fortunate to work out of Mass Collective, a maker’s cooperative where I get to interact and connect with various craft people. Spaces like these are critical in fostering inclusive and collaborative work environments, and because, as we all know, gluing up sometimes requires more than just two hands. My experience in Maine strengthened my commitment to helping build a stronger woodworking community here in Atlanta, a community where all people can take part in and have access to this incredible craft.
-Robell Awake (@robellawake)
The Tuesday morning Issue Three pre-order launch was nuts. Mike and I stayed up late with last minute prep and double (and triple) checking all the store’s settings for the launch. We knew we had at least a few folks that would stay up late to order at midnight so we wanted to make sure there weren’t going to be any glitches.
I called Mike at 11:50 p.m. to check in and review our launch check list (update inventory, publish blog post, post on social media, etc.). We divvied up the list and waited until the clock struck 12:00 exactly. As we worked through our check list, we were watching for the first 25 orders to come in to take the free eBook. Before we even finished our tasks, Mike realized we whizzed right past order 25! Woah! All night long our dedicated readers signed up for subscriptions and pre-orders. You all amaze us. Thank you for being so supportive as we grow this little publication. The yearly subscriptions are a huge step for us and we are blown away to be here. There’s no way we could continue to do this without you surrounding us with your enthusiasm and patronage.
As a way of celebrating the launch, Mike came over Wednesday morning to help my father and I raise the barn I purchased last fall. The 18’ x 24’ frame was made by a local timber frame company as a seasonal display barn. It sat, unsheathed, on the side of highway 295 to advertise their work. As I understand it, these display frames are sold at the end of the season for a song. I bought it second hand from a friend who wasn’t able to put it up as he envisioned.
The three of us (under my eight-year-old’s supervision) began sorting the timbers and deciphering the labeling system. We assembled the first bent on the sills and rigged up a gin pole with a block and tackle system against the back of our greenhouse. With one man on each outside post and one pulling the rope, we raised the massive wall without any problems. It was heavy, to be sure, but totally manageable.
The plates, their braces, and the nailers that connect the bents made the next two walls a wee bit trickier. To make sure everything was lined up while raising the next bent, we assembled the parts into the standing frame and screwed supports at the exact height they needed. Once the bent was raised, it was a simple matter of guiding the three tenons (on each side) into place. It made things surprisingly straightforward.
Little Asher (2) driving pegs for us
We lashed the gin pole to the middle tie beam to raise the last bent. Everything went swimmingly. In two days of work, the three of us raised the three bents. What a satisfying project to tackle together. This was the first time any of us were involved in raising a frame and it was so fun. The gin pole especially fascinated me. This sapling with block and tackle is an amazing device that makes huge lifts like this possible for such a small crew. Next week, Mike and I will try to come up with a way to install the rafters. I’m not yet sure how we’re going to pull it off but the success of the gin pole has us optimistic.
This whole project was a great warm-up exercise because next month Mike and I will be raising the frame for our new workshop. I’ve purchased a hand-hewn beech and chestnut frame (circa 1800) from Green Mountain Timber Frames in Middletown Springs, VT. Luke Larson and his crew will be bringing it up this September and raising it on my property. I’m relieved to not be the one overseeing the process. This crew has a lot of experience with these old frames and I am looking forward to soaking up their wisdom as Mike and I help out.
The new M&T shop building
I went down to see the frame (and Luke) in person a few weeks ago and am so excited about it. This frame is absolutely gorgeous. We can’t wait to be standing in it. Our articles for M&T, our instructional videos, and all our workshops will take place in this historic building. We will make many memories here.
You will hear a lot more about the new shop frame in the coming months.