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Peter Follansbee, joiner's notes
Saw a book at the library the other day – Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do – but I didn’t take it home. I already know I like living within sight of the water.Looking down the Jones River
As an added bonus, the borrowed shop I’m using has a water view as well. As you might know, I had a great time this winter. But…I’m not sad to see it going away now…today was the first day I could sit outside and feel warm enough in just a sweater. So I sat by the edge of Town Brook and ate my lunch. And watched the water.Up the Town Brook
For ten minutes, I was transported. I was Huck Finn, drifting down his Mississippi. Then I was Henry David Thoreau, philosophizing beside Walden Pond. I heard Garcia singing Brokedown Palace. I was that red-tail hawk, floating above the Brook…then I was me, thinking of the Jones River at home…was the tide low or high?that way to the sea
Then an emergency vehicle came screaming down the road, my reverie was snapped. Water view or not, it was time to go back to work. But it sure was a great ten minutes.
I took today off, which means I only did woodworking for half the day so far. A few things rambling around during the last week. We made it out to the beach the other day for the first time since the winter hit hard.
The usual beach-combing, sand-building, and scenery-viewing. Then on the walk back, Daniel noticed this skull. I put the keys in the shot for scale.
My what lovely teeth you had…really small, but fierce teeth. I woulda brought it home for the skull & bones collection, but it was still fleshy in places…
Saw this in the yard today, it was cause for excitement.
The view up the river, no ice.
I finished this bowl yesterday & today. Mostly finished, I’ll carved some stuff along its rim. Butternut, (Juglans cinerea)
Here’s one way I hold it for final shaping of the rims’ edge. Just some scrap blocks inside the bowl, to keep the vise from pressing against the upper edge.
Like the spoons, I lean towards odd-ball shapes. This one’s a bent limb, which results in the pith being off-center. So I made the centerline of the bowl ever further out-of-whack. That results in some unusual shapes. Which can be good, or can be fatal. Worked this time, I think.
If you are at all interested in hewing bowls, two things. I’m teaching it this August at Lie-Nielsen, https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/71
and otherwise, you might if you haven’t already look at Dave Fisher’s new blog about his carvings. Dave’s stuff is really inspiring. https://davidffisherblog.wordpress.com/
One other Lie-Nielsen thing – we have decided to try something new(ish) for my carving class this June. Usually we rive and plane some oak, and carve patterns based on the 17th-century stuff. This time, we’re attempting to carve and assemble a small box.
So instead of riving the stuff, it will be riven & prepped ahead of time. Then we’ll concentrate on carving and cutting & assembling. 2 days – whew. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/61
I’ll be doing the whole-soup-to-nuts version of the carved box at Marc Adams’ school as well as the New English Workshops in England. I’ll write in detail about those workshops later this week.
but I do it with oak all the time. I have three active oak projects going right now. Active means I’m working on them all at once. A couple more are semi-active. Like the desk box, that got back-burner-ed for a video shoot this spring. I’ll save the final assembly for the cameras.
This chest has been around a long time, but it’s going forward now at a regular clip.
Its purpose is to illustrate in the joinery book how to make & fit drawers. Hence, “chest with drawers.” The front is mostly pinned, the sides are test-fitted, I have to finish cutting and fitting the till, and a little more work on the rear frame. Mortises are cut, need to cut the tenons; plow grooves, etc. I’d say this chest is about 8 or 10 hours’ work from final assembly, including the floor. Then comes the drawers. And lid.rear rails & stiles
A related chest with drawers is the model for the joined chest class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. I’ve cut the front frame, and started the carving the other day. It too will have 2 drawers, there are drawer rails not yet fitted in this photo…
I used to like to start the day with large movements, like planing. Then I’d save the carving for late in the day, when I wanted to take it easy. But here in the (walk-out) basement, the light is best early in the morning – so I carved yesterday AM. But it’s a lousy way to begin your day. Too tight a posture. So this carving got left for later. and today I planed and mortised the front rails for the NEXT joinery project!
A cupboard for Plimoth Plantation. This one will have a joined front fitted to a board carcass. No decoration to speak of, other than chamfers, etc. So the opening in the middle is for a door. Below are off-cuts from the panels in this cupboard; 10″ long, they have a limited use. Usually they would just get tossed, but these will get planed to 1/4″ thickness for drawer parts for the desk box. Good use for such wide, flat stuff that is otherwise firewood.
Next week I hope to move all of these over to the shop I’m doing my photography in, and get some good pictures going. Goal is to have the first chest with drawers and the cupboard all assembled this time next week. we’ll see.
I’m back from the first weekend of the chest class – and it went very well. Now I have to plane a slew of oak, like the students were doing all weekend.
But the family took a walk on bare earth today, and heard a bunch of loud crows – kept looking up to see what the trouble was…but it turned out to be right in front of us – this juvenile red tailed hawk, sitting on a fence post. We walked right near it, without spooking it. Here’s when I thought I was really close to it –
then the hawk just wouldn’t be spooked. So we left, and when we turned for home – still there.
closer still. I’ve got close to juvies before – for some reason, there’s times when they don’t care about us.
well there’s a lot going on here, it just doesn’t look it according to the blog. Much of the activity is in my head anyway. Let’s see…recently I’ve been preparing to teach classes, or teaching them. The spoon class at Plymouth CRAFT went very well, at least I think it did. some of the students thought so too. It was a hoppin’ scene, and I’m too out of breath to run it all down. here’s some pictures I swiped from Marie Pelletier who shot a bunch for us. One or two are mine. spoon carving, knitting, sausage-making (well, my shot was cooking some…) and egg-decoration. And lunch. http://plymouthcraft.org/
At the same time as that, I was (with help, thanks to Michael Doherty) prepping material for the upcoming chest-building insanity coming up at Bob Van Dyke’s. I hear today the first 150 or so pieces have been delivered and are ready for students tomorrow to begin planing them. when Roy Underhill & I tried a chest class last summer, we both said within 15 minutes of being underway, “this is nuts” and we’d never do it again. Then Bob called, cooked up his scheme, and the log piece fell into place…so here goes again. Impromptu riving brake:
but all the while, I’ve been thinking about workspaces. it’s 8 or so months since I left my shop at the museum. Luckily I was lent a shop where I can work & shoot photographs for the upcoming book on joinery. That’s a great space, but it’s not mine…
and then the winter struck. I loved it, but one thing that much snow did here was make anything you want to do take longer. So I stuck close to home, and worked at the workbench I have in the basement here. That space is multi-purpose to say the least. Effectively the part I work in amounts to about 7’ x 10’ – with a little extra if I move stuff out of the way…but then it’s in the way for something else. I counted one day – I needed a chisel, and it was 9 steps to the tool chest, 9 steps back. I know I’m not alone in this regard, but it sure is crazy-making.
that’s one reason why there’s been so little on the blog – no room to take decent pictures. Here’s one I shot with an Ipad, of a chest test-fitted. I’d have to go out the window if I had to move quickly. And I had to move stuff just to shoot this with an Ipad!
I’ve been busy with Instagram and Facebook, but to me those aren’t as satisfying as this. to me, this becomes like a journal or record of my work..
but I’m cautiously optimistic that 2015 will change some of that. Sounds like I might be able to build a shop (whoops – not a shop, an “auxiliary building”) – I have more checking to do, but the first round with the town sounded hopeful. I did not tell them what it was for, just a “tool shed”. so in my mind, I’m designing a 12 1/2’ x 16’ building. I already am thinking of what to carve on the frame! I know – “nothing’s for certain, it can always go wrong” – but I said cautiously optimistic.
I always wanted to be this guy:
Or the joiner-equivalent of this British chair maker:
We’ll see how it goes.
Maureen has moved onto Spring, just like today’s calendar. https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts lotsa colors…
This September, Jogge Sundqvist will be teaching a 2-day class at Lie-Nielsen in Warren, ME.. This will fill quickly; I am just posting it so you’ll know. I’ll be there, it’s going to be great. read the details here:
And now for all-too-rare posts with birds – cooper’s hawk in the sycamore tree next door. I saw him chasing a feeder bird on the wing, not usually his M.O. Everyone’s hard up these days.
A great blue heron on the ice on town brook in Plymouth – we have only seen a heron once this winter at home, not sure why. Usually they’re here all the time.
Everybody has to be careful on the ice. He eventually got a medium size rodent and choked it down, but it’s before breakfast here so I will spare us the visuals.
There’s a male wood duck who is fixated on a female mallard at Jenny Pond in Plymouth.
These ducks get fed, so are hideously tame. You can’t usually get near a wood duck in the wild, I can’t anyway. He stuck next to her on every move.
It’s easy to extrapolate all kinds of shallow human traits here = she must be very proud of herself, snagging such a showy male. He’s forever primping to keep up his flashy appearance. But they’re just ducks.
On the way home from Plymouth, I stopped to check on the screech owl. It was a sunny day, I’d be sticking my nose out of the box too if I was him.
At the end of last June, I left my job at Plimoth Plantation. I had been there 20 years, and it was quite a scene for much of that time. I miss having an audience (“sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me…”) and I miss having a shop that’s 16’ x 30’. But a big part of what appealed to me there was my co-workers. We had quite a crew of talent, ideas, execution – it was a very creative place. Over the years, one by one, sometimes in larger clumps, folks left the museum. Finally it was my turn, and things on the outside are great. I get to teach workshops at some of the best woodworking schools going – Roy’s place, Bob Van Dyke’s, formerly at Country Workshops = and beyond.
I was glad to be on my own – no rules, no bosses. Then – an opportunity to join a new non-profit? Out of the frying pan, into the fire? Nah, I jumped at the chance to be involved in Plymouth CRAFT. (Center for Restoration Arts and Forgotten Trades) It’s not a woodworking school, it doesn’t exist in space, and it’s still in its infancy. But it’s peopled with many of the craftsmen & women that I worked with at Plimoth. Having been with these people day in and day out, I tend to take them for granted; but their talents are extraordinary. This coming weekend we have several things going on at once –
My spoon carving class has 2 openings, semi-last minute. (my last 2 spoon class openings in the lower 48) If you can make it, I’ll show you how to use an axe, and two knives to make wooden spoons that hopefully will change the way you look at life. http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=carving-wooden-spoons-with-peter-follansbee
Then there’s Denise Lebica’s knitting workshops – I and II. Denise worked in the wardrobe department there for decades; she knows her way around fibers. She & I worked side-by-side for several years, she knows all my jokes by heart. http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=learn-to-knit-retreat-part-2
Paula Marcoux’s exploits are too many for me to go into, but her gig at Plymouth CRAFT is all-around top-to-bottom whirlwind. In addition to helping us all get going there at Overbrook House this weekend, after she makes us a lunch that has to be experienced to be believed, Paula will be teaching her class Sausage, Scrapple & Lard – http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=sausage-scrapple-lardand me – a vegetarian! The things I do for CRAFT
And if that’s not enough, Martha Sulya is now going to teach some lucky students how to make the Ukrainian decorated eggs that she has astounded us with for years. http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=pysanky-ukrainian-egg-decorating If you have read this blog a while, you know I like patterns and decoration – these eggs got it in spades. Everyone who sees them is amazed. This is not some “small-craft-warning” this is the real thing.
Later this spring, Mark Atchison will teach a beginner’s blacksmithing class – http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=the-fundamentals-of-blacksmithing-a-traditional-perspective Mark’s work appears on this blog every time I show any iron I work with…his work is great. You won’t see me pounding iron, because I’ve been spoiled by Mark all these years.
We have more planned, me & Rick McKee (blue oak blog – https://blueoakblog.wordpress.com/ ) will help students learn some of the intricacies of riving parts right from an oak log… http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=splitting-a-log-into-boards and other classes too. Sign up for the newsletter – Plymouth CRAFT will keep growing. Come join us, you’ll have quite a time. Part of what I like about it is the exposure I get to other crafts, and other craftsmen & women – you start to see all kinds of connections between and across the trades. And you’ll meet some people you might never forget. Fun stuff. There’s some new content on the CRAFT website, look it over when you get a chance. http://plymouthcraft.org/
I’m cleaning & sorting. It’s just awful. I’ll spare you the gory details; but found these photos of an interesting board chest. It was probably 20 years ago I shot these, a few are worth seeing. Here’s the overall chest, pine throughout.
It was made in Plymouth, 1699 (the date is carved on the till lid) – an ordinary enough board chest, with a drawer. The real kicker for me is the mechanism for locking the drawer. Garish color here, but here’s the sleeve with the stick that slides through a hole in the chest floor –
And then engages a related sleeve in the drawer. Amazingly, it’s all there, a rare survivor. Seems like the drawer also was compartmentalized, note the notch in the inside of the drawer front.
Here’s the only detail I have of the decoration on the chest & drawer fronts:
The chest we’re building in class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking had a similar drawer-locking arrangement, so we’ll copy this sort of stick.
I didn’t set out to make this at all. I only saw the original once, back in the early 1990s when I was researching the furniture made in 17th century Braintree, Massachusetts, by William Savell and his sons John & William. But then recently I was given (thanks Michael) some really wide red oak bolts…so I rived & planed up stuff & decided to tackle this form. (10″ high, 22″ wide, and about 16″ deep) I had built one once but I think it had no insides, I forget.
In the photo above, I have test-fitted the fixed top board, it will be trimmed after attaching it with wooden pins. It won’t get installed until the hinges are attached to it. First things first.
Many English boxes are just plain inside, but New England ones often (usually) have a till inside. The Savell shop had tills and drawers inside theirs, even their flat-top boxes like this one, I forget right now if there were drawers under the till nearest the camera:Braintree box interior
It’s a particularly stupid arrangement – if you stuff things in the box, then you can’t pull the drawers out. But it has an obsessive compulsive appeal.
A desk/slant-lid box almost always is divided up inside. This one features two tills, a long open tray in the rear, and four drawers up above. One of the tills, closed – English oak for the till lid:
Same till, open:
The original is missing its drawers, maybe they were cubbies w/o drawers –
but mine will have small oak drawers. I just ordered the dovetail hinges for it, and some curtain rings for the drawer pulls. When I get this far on a new project, I always wish I could make the 2nd one first – just made some trial & error sort of mistakes. Nothing major, but next time….
Now while I wait for the hardware from the blacksmith, I’ll plane up the board for the hinged lid, then I can go back to the joined chests I was making.
Spoons & more for sale here: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/spoons-baskets-bowls-for-sale-march-2015/
We are getting a real nice slow, heavy snowfall today, covering up the dirty snow that’s been hanging around. I saw a joint stool (22″ high) in the yard the other day, just poking its head out of the snow. Gone again now. Spent a chunk of the morning snow-shoeing, down to the beach at the Bay Farm.
The snow is still pretty deep, that’s a bike rack sticking up beside us here:
I was in the mood that around every corner was a photograph:
I made it out to the beach; the bay was filled with ducks; these are black ducks, but I saw mergansers, long-tailed ducks & who knows what else. Hundreds, I’d say.
Recently, I read the following timely passage from Thoreau’s journal – while the kids had been making tunnels in the snow.
Jan 20, 1857
at Emerson’s this evening, at about 6PM I was called out to see Eddy’s cave in the snow. It was a hole about two and a half feet wide and six feet long, into a drift, a little winding, and he had got a lamp at the inner extremity. I observed, as I approached in a course at right angles with the length of the cave, that the mouth of the cave was lit as if the light were close to it, so that I did not suspect its depth. Indeed, the light of the lamp was remarkably reflected and distributed. The snowy walls were one universal reflector with countless facets. I think that one lamp would light sufficiently a hall built of this material. The snow about the mouth of the cave within had the yellow color of the flame to one approaching, as if the lamp were close to it. We afterward buried the lamp in a little crypt in this snow-drift and walled it in, and found that its light was visible, even in this twilight, through fifteen inches’ thickness of snow. The snow was all aglow with it. If it had been darker, probably it would have been visible through a much greater thickness. But, what was most surprising to me, when Eddy crawled into the extremity of his cave and shouted at the top of his voice, it sounded ridiculously faint, as if he were a quarter of a mile off, but we all of us crawled in by turns, and though our heads were only six feet from those outside, our loudest shouting only amused and surprised them. Apparently the porous snow drank up all the sound. The voice was, in fact, muffled by the surrounding snow walls, and I saw that we might lie in that hole screaming for assistance in vain, while travellers were passing along twenty feet distant. It had the effect of ventrilloquism.So you only need to make a snow house in your yard and pass in hour in it, to realize a good deal of Esquimau life.
Ellen Tucker Emerson (1839-1909) wrote to her father on 22 January 1857 “Mr Thoreau was here night before last and Eddy illuminated his snow cave and called out to us; we couldn’t hear what he said though we were close at the mouth of the cave and Mr Thoreau said ‘Speak louder’ so Eddy spoke again and we could hear some very feeble words. Then Mr Thoreau told him to holla as loud as he could, but we hard only very weak squeaks. Then Mr Thoreau was very surprised, as he said he could hardly believe Eddy was calling loud, and he went in himself and shouted and it sounded as if someone was in trouble over the brook near Mr Stow’s. And Edie went in and peeped and that sounded very feeble. Mr Thoreau thought the snow sucked up the sound. Then he said he should like to see how transparent snow was, and we dug into the snow-drift a hole with one side 4 inches thick and one 14 and about 6 inches from the top, then we put the lamp in and walled it up with a block of snow eight inches thick, through the four inches one could see to read, through fourteen the lamp shone bright and shining like a lantern – a Norwegian would think it was a troll-mount. Mr Thoreau was quite delighted and so we all were with our experiments.”
Last night about 6-7pm the kids & I went down near the river to listen to the hootings of two great horned owls. Timeless fun.
March. Hmm… it means two things to me right now. One is turn the page on the Yurt Foundation calendar, the other is to march, get going, quit fooling around. This is the month that my schedule picks up. So rather than just picking up whatever project happens to catch my fancy at any given moment, it’s time to knuckle down and get some stuff done.
I keep shifting back & forth. I have to ignore these spoons in the daylight right now, and get to work on my desk box, and the 2 chests with drawers I have underway. At least by having these spoons roughed out, I can carve them at night.
Spoons and baskets for sale today – here: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/spoons-baskets-bowls-for-sale-march-2015/
Daylight is for heavier bench work…so the goal for this week is to get the desk box all cut and ready to assemble, then work on cutting joinery and laying out carving for the chest with drawer that’s the focus of my class beginning later this month.
Enough. Here’s details on the 2 classes coming up this month. The first is a 2-day class in spoon carving at Plymouth CRAFT – 2 spaces left they tell me. The class is March 14 & 15 – details here. http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=carving-wooden-spoons-with-peter-follansbee There’s knitting, cooking & egg decorating classes at the same time – http://plymouthcraft.org/?post_type=tribe_events
The other class is the first entry in the 5-month “build a chest with drawer” class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. We can squeeze another joiner or two in…If all goes well, I’ll be showing you some of oak for that class tomorrow. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/woodworking-classes/29-speciality-weekend-classes/534-build-a-17th-century-joined-chest-with-peter-follansbee.html
and the rest of the schedule is here: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015-teaching-schedule/ including two weeks teaching in Olde England – I’ll write about that next week.
I’ve spent a chunk of today unpacking from the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event I did at Goosebay Lumber & Sawmill, in Chichester, NH this weekend. It was a small show by some standards, but very nice venue. here’s some photos I got.
Both days were bright & sunny. Didn’t snow. Goosebay is a very nice place. Lots of sawn lumber, both local and otherwise. http://goosebaylumber.net/index.php
I saw many logs there, red oak, ash, maple, pine and more. Both Carl and young Carl assured my that if you are looking to buy a green log for riving, they can help you. You just need to give them some advance warning.
Sawn stuff too.
Here’s the Lie-Nielsen crates – these things have a lot of miles on them…
When you go to the upper level to look for wood, you can view down where the action was/is. I was carving spoons off to the right in the 2nd photo. But not while I was shooting these…
Thanks to Carl, Carl, Ted, Kirsten & Danielle – and to the folks who came out to see us. Next time, the rest of you can come too! We had a great time.
I almost forgot – this one’s for Chris, made by “Down to Earth” = I forget the whole story… I’ve made several, but never a paneled one. Ahh, another project. picture it carved.
Tomorrow some spoons, baskets and hewn bowls for sale. About 10AM my time, east coast US.
Back in the good ‘ol days, I was on the payroll, but no one knew what my job was. So I could spend 4 or 5 hours at a time, watching for bald eagles in the winter… Now that I’m on my own, time’s a bit tighter. I gambled a couple hours today, came up empty for eagles, but got some shots of a red tail hawk shrugging off some crows.
When the hawk is over-exposed, the crow comes out with some detail.
This one’s got a nice diagonal symmetry to it.
Devil’s Advocate time for me.
Jennie Alexander wrote today commenting about the recent post “what is green woodworking” – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/what-is-green-woodworking-2/
Here is her comment:
“I am fascinated by the continuing dialogue about green woodworking crafts. They are crafts where wood of substantial moisture content is initially processed by riving, not sawing, in the direction of its long fibers. Glossary, Make a Chair from a Tree, Third Edition, Lost Art Press…..when it gets published. So there. Jennie”
JA – by your definition today, the chest above is not green woodworking. i.e. it’s sawn stock. Not riven.
just to keep things lively…on a cold winter day.
By the way, I can’t remember the last time I mentioned it, but if readers want to see lots of oak furniture of this period, do sign up for Marhamchurch Antiques emails. I always stop and look at what Paul Fitzsimmons has churned up over there. Great stuff. I swiped these photos from him. Thanks, Paul.
OK for those of you who wrote, and now mostly for those who didn’t – yes, it’s a technical mixup…
I edited the sidebar of the blog – to do a little housekeeping, and to add some new stuff, Instagram for example. In doing so, it seems that now the sidebar (widgets in WordPress-speak) right now only appears on the front page of the blog. If you open just a post, then all you get is some blather about that particular entry. So something went haywire when I updated the widgets…
My intention is to keep some links there, a search button (that’s how I answer most of your questions, by the way…) and I forget what else.
It’s all still here, going back to 2008. I’ll sit down tonight to try to get it back on track. Daylight is for woodworking, or, I wish, birdwatching.
If you know what I did, and how to un-do it, let me know. Otherwise, I scroll through loads of the help forums on wordpress.com
I can’t believe how fast this month is going by. I guess all that playing in the snow is catching up with me. Tweaked my back a little, (I think it was a sledding incident) so for the past 2 days have had light duty… so some blog updating was due. I wrangled with the sidebar to this blog. I doubt any one actually uses it; but there is a search button down there somewhere, as well as links to order the wainscot chair DVD; Maureen’s knitting/felting site, and Plymouth CRAFT. You will also see I have, much to my own shock, joined the 21st century and added an Instagram link. There is also a Facebook something-or-other out there with my name on it – all of this is down to Robin Wood and Jarrod Stone Dahl, those cursed bowl turners. I’m astounded by these things. Robin showed me his Instagram site – and while I was creating one, people were finding it…I don’t want to know how that works!
Here’s the facebook link – https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009003798086
and the Instagram https://instagram.com/peterfollansbee/
I’m trying both of these things. Who knows how long it will last? I still like the blog – that I know I’ll keep.
I’ve been carving some parts for a desk box lately. I’ve only made this type of box once before. The original is from the Braintree, Massachusetts group, William Savell and his sons John and William. These are the first patterns I ever learned how to carve. Working on them now is really so much fun; makes me look back on the whole joinery trip. I shoveled out some oak the other day; so more work coming.
Next Friday/Saturday, I’ll be at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Chichester New Hampshire. I will be carving spoons and hopefully talking to hordes of visitors. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/hand-tool-events/USA/74
Maureen has added some stuff, and now in the depths of winter, her knitting looks spring-ish. that’ll come…
Some time ago, I wrote a column for Popular Woodworking and asked the question “what is green woodworking?” (December 2014, #215) I’m not going to repeat the article here, but want to look at the subject. The column stemmed from a talk I gave at Lie-Nielsen’s Open House last summer.
I used to know pretty clearly what “green woodworking” meant. But the older I get, the more I realize the less I know.
Making a carved spoon is a great example of green woodworking – you can make them from dry wood, (I wouldn’t) but the best ones come from trees, and are worked while the wood still has a high moisture content. More direct, easier to cut, exploiting the fibers of the riven/split form – all of these are hallmarks of green woodworking. Hewn bowls, and many turned ones fall into a similar category. But bowls and spoons are single pieces of wood. what about furniture, when you put stuff together?
When I first learned of this method of woodworking, it was Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft, Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s Shop – and the book that coined the term for the modern day – Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Green Woodworking by John (now Jennie) Alexander. What puts the green in green woodworking? Is it moisture content? Is it riving the wood? Is it “country crafts” like the British books that inspired all of the authors listed above – Jenkins’ Traditional Country Craftsmen” and Edlin “Woodland Crafts in Britain”. Alexander felt left out of the “country” aspect of this traditional woodworking, living in the heart of the city. Hence her book’s subtitle has “green woodworking” – not country anything.
The ladderback style chair Alexander learned even got a great deal of its strength from the moisture content manipulation – dry tenons in wetter mortises. the mortise shrinks, the tenon swells. Presto! You’re a chairmaker and have never been to a lumberyard. The way I remember it, in the 1980s green woodworking was ladderback chairs, some bowl-turning (I remember folks used to turn them green, let them dry, the re-turn them round again!) and a few other disciplines. Timber framing comes to mind.
I think about coopering – is that green woodworking? Usually riven stock, worked with a hatchet, drawkinives, shaving horses – but the critical parts are either executed or at least assembled when the stock is bone-dry. Or else.
Windsor chairs? In America, these usually had, and have, softwood seats. Often white pine. That ain’t worked green. But the hardwood components are often riven from green stock. They’re selectively dried, like parts of Alexander’s ladderback chair, before assembly. Even the hardwood seats of British Windsors can’t be dead-green…
Some approach the “green” like the modern use of the term, renewable energy; careful use of resources, that sort of thing. Coppice crafts, are perfectly aligned with this idea. This work has long been very popular in the Old World, yet to my knowledge, never caught on here in the New World.
Starting in 1989, Alexander and I explored another furniture craft, seemingly more complex, until we got through with it & stripped it down – joiner’s work of the 17th century. It had riven stock, high moisture content – but some of it was not “country” in its format – some were very elaborate forms; with lots of decoration. This work has been my main focus since then. It does not fit the eco-groovy definition at all. I call it “Imperialist Swine” woodworking – you need a whole new forest to sustain it. The oak trees I want take 200 years to grow to size. And I will only use a small percentage of the tree. The rest goes in the fire.
In the end, I decided I don’t think of myself as a “green woodworker” although probably three-quarters of my stock is riven from green logs, and primarily worked up while it has a high moisture content. Trees are wood, I’m a woodworker. Sometimes I use stock fresh from the log, other times I need stuff that’s air-dried. I work the wood at various stages between wet & dry. Most of my furniture is a combination of the two. I think that’s a traditional approach….
Oh, no! What’s “traditional” woodworking????
I am really lucky. Last year, my wife & I decided to concentrate our efforts on things we really believed in, contrary to some of our actions at that time. So I quit my job, and we began home-schooling the kids this past fall. A large part of my income is from travelling to teach workshops, but some of it happens here at home. I’m lucky that so far, we can get away with it. So far. It could go bad at any time.
What does this have to do with the weather? Simple. I have always liked winter. But I used to complain loudly about summer heat & humidity. One beastly summer day I decided that if I kept up complaining about it, then there were odds that each year, for upwards of maybe 15-20 or so days, I’d be in a bad mood right off the bat. Seems stupid to let something so out of my control steer my days, so I quit feeling that way. Threw the switch in my head that said “I hate this…” and just slowed down on humid days, and expected things to take longer than “ordinary”.
But as long as I can remember, I have liked shoveling the snow. In the storms we’ve had this past month, it’s been great work. Hard physical work, that warms you up on a winter day. Bright fresh air like no other time of year, and almost no traffic. quiet like we don’t often get around here. I had a very nice offer from a neighbor the other day – “I can bring my snowblower over & get this done quickly.” – I thanked her, and told her I was lucky, I don’t have to go anywhere for a few weeks. I can take my time & spread this work out. Didn’t have to do it all today,…thanks just the same. It took some convincing, she offered too to have her husband sweep through with the plow. Nope – thanks, it’s OK. Really, it’s all right. I told her if it was wet snow, I’d take her up on it. That made her feel better.
People just can’t conceive that I might like this. The kids were out playing in the snow, the bird feeders were busy as all get out. There were hawks circling high overhead. The sky was blue like no other. It was fine really. I am lucky. Temporarily able-bodied, one person once said. While that’s the case, I’m going to enjoy it. I work at it til I’m tired, then I rest. There’s a lot to take in…dark-eyed juncos, (Thoreau’s “snowbird”) everywhere, common goldeneye in the river; a little wren working its way in & out of the ivy on the side of the house. The kids romping in the snow. When I start to get cold, then I know it’s time to work again. I understand other folks have different challenges and that this weather makes it hard for them. But I am sure that many are just complaining out of habit, rather than hardship. If they could just throw that switch in their heads…
I am lucky. I don’t have to be anywhere. I’m not complaining.
At my house, the carved joined stuff is in every room. I have tried many times, and always failed, to count the pieces of furniture in this 4 1/2 room house. You’d be amazed at how much stuff you can cram in here. (I’m in the kitchen right now – 9 pieces of free-standing furniture, 3 hanging on the wall, and all the built-in cupboards above the counters)
This week, I have been making this little, big rush-seated chair. Little because it’s a low seat, generally small-size chair. Big because it’s not subtle – the posts are almost 2” square, the rungs fit in holes that are 15/16” in diameter. So little big chair. It’s based on 17th-century chairs that we mostly know from Dutch artwork, more-so than from surviving examples. (next up for it is trimming the posts here & there, weaving the seat…) These are ancestors of the ladderback chairs that I first learned back in the late 1970s/80s. Here’s one that I did about 1984 or so. A more recent kid’s version too.
I began as a chairmaker. Made ladderbacks, rockers, Windsors – then got into the 17th century & made wainscot chairs, 3-legged & 4-legged. Turned chairs ditto. Leather chairs. Chairs w boxes in the seat. Kid’s chairs, high chairs. My semi-latest chair was the walnut brettstuhl.
But at our kitchen table, the chairs we use at every meal and then some are Windsor chairs I made 20-25 years ago.
At my desk too. I once had one of those stupid office chairs, then I came to my senses & remembered that I am a chairmaker. Windsors are lightweight, comfortable, attractive. Sturdy. Fun and challenging to build; carving, turning, shaved work, sculpted seats. good all around projects. And so much variety.
Two things happened this week to remind me of how much I like good Windsor chairs. Lost Art Press announced the release of Pete Galbert’s long-awaited book on Windsor chairs. You already know about that…
One of the days that the mail got through here, I received Curtis Buchanan’s next installment in his printed plans for his chairs, this one a fanback side chair, one of my favorites.
I learned Windsors from Curtis, starting in 1987. I really like his approach, both to his chairs and to his life. If you’ve seen his youtube series on making a Windsor chair – then you’ve seen Curtis’ style, very human, simple, direct – and he makes especially beautiful chairs. This set of plans is 4 pages; some 1/2 scale, some full scale. Two different turning patterns, bending forms, seat profile & plan. Boring angles – a course in Windsor chair making in 4 pages. I’m ordering Pete’s book, but I’m keeping Curtis’ plans too – you never know when I might reach into my past & make some more chairs. We must be able to squeeze one or two more in here…
Curtis’ plans & videos http://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html
my wainscot chair video https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/book-dvds/
Why do I make spoons? people ask me, but I ask myself as well. Not for money, the way I make & sell them is cumbersome at best. I do sell them, and it brings in some money, but the time I spend at it negates some of the “profit.” I am always appreciative when someone buys one of my spoons, it means a lot to be to have that sort of support. I am not interested in pursuing production runs, efficient sales, etc – that’s not my bag. If I were to get serious about that, I should do it with furniture, which is more lucrative. I’m faster at it, and it’d be a better return for my time. But for me, that’s not what woodworking is about.
It’s not as if a household needs dozens of spoons. sure we can use a lot of them in cooking, serving & eating – but be serious. we have way more than we need. And the ones from the dollar store could serve us just fine, and we’d be none the wiser. Indeed, the great majority of the population will never know the difference.
But there is this craze about wooden spoons and spoon carving in full bloom right now. Why? Why now?
I think the internet/computer use is behind it, in two ways. As we as a society use screen-devices more and more, it has driven us further away from human contact, but conversely connected us more, if that makes sense. The notion of making a wooden spoon with a hatchet and knife has been around in the US woodworking arena since the late 1970s at least. The principal influence I remember is Wille Sundqvist, but also Dan Dustin got a short feature in Fine Woodworking back in the 1980s. Dan is an original, his spoons have nothing to do with Wille’s work. I’m sure there were others, but maybe they got less coverage. Maybe I wasn’t looking. I learned from Wille, Jogge & Drew Langsner. Thought not much about it for many years, just usually kept some spoon carving in tandem with my furniture work. they made great gifts, “Oh, look – a wooden spoon!” then on the shelf it goes…
Robin Wood has cited, correctly to some degree I think, that the spoon work is attractive because you need no shop, or certainly limited space. Someplace to hew the blanks, then the rest can be done in your lap. Small quantities of wood. And they don’t take months to do like some large case furniture for instance.
For me, there’s more to it than that. There’s a connection between people and raw materials that is now rare. Maybe not in my household, or in yours, but I’m sorry to tell you that we are on the fringes of society. The general population doesn’t even think about these things.
At our house, we like to increase the handmade items we surround ourselves with. Woodenware, ceramics, woolens – as much as we can, we prefer to have people-made stuff around, handmade. There;’s a connection that you think about as you reach for that bowl, that spoon – pull on that sweater.
I’m thinking of these things lately for lots of reasons, but one is because I just finished reading A Man Apart: Bill Coperthwaite’s Radical Experiment in Living by Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow.
I only knew Bill a little bit, but his influence reached across decades. If you carved a spoon in America based on Wille Sunqvist’s work, Bill was the one who shoved that snowball down the hill. The book is not about spoon carving, nor really about woodworking. It’s about the relationship between mentor & mentor-ed. And about how to live, as Bill saw it…
After I finished the book, I couldn’t concentrate. My mind was swirling around about how to live, what is important, what is dross. The only book I could pick up in the days after finishing it was Thoreau’s journal.
I can’t wait to carve my next spoon.