Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ashes to ashes

Well maybe not to ashes but certainly into the steam box.

Here is the English or Desert Ash that I split in readiness for the upcoming Continuous Arm Rocking Chair Class that we are teaching at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking. What makes this class special apart from being a rocking chair instead of the usual arm chair is that Peter Galbert is coming out from Massachusetts in the U.S. to teach it.

In fact he will be teaching three chair classes in the time he is here, and they are all full.... Stop Press- as I was typing I've been made aware that there is one space that has become available on the Continuous Arm Rocking Chair class. If you are reading this and are interested or know someone that is, get in quick it won't last long. Go to to register your interest.

Anyway, back to the log. Ash has a good reputation as a fine wood for chair making. It turns and steam bends well and is worked easily when green, with edged tools. As you can see by the photo above it also splits very well. This 6 foot log almost popped open on the first split. A good straight log obviously helps, but this is probably the best log I have split to date.

Following the rule of thumb to always split in halves, this Ash again showed itself to be a good choice for the long continuous arm crest rails that we intend to make from it. These need to be a continuous line of grain from one end to the other. Eliminating 'grain run out' by splitting timber, ensures strength after being steamed and bent around the bending form. So here is the raw product, from the tree, in a few weeks I'll post the results of the 12 crest rails that have come from it and will be put into 12 beautiful hand made windsor rocking chairs.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Behind the scenes.

When I started this blog it was at an interesting point in time for us as a family. We had made the decision to sell our family home that we had spent the last 10 years extending and renovating. The same house that I swore I would never leave!

But of course things change and you can either move with those changes or get left behind. In our case we had been looking at country properties for the previous 18 months, with a view to finding a small block where we could 'get away' for weekends. We found one, got swamped in the tidal wave of interest in the property at auction and went home to re-think.

What we decided that night was why were we wanting to 'escape to the country' every weekend and return to town during the week? Surely if the country was where we wanted to enjoy our time, then why don't we move there full stop? So the house went on the market and after a long and drawn out process finally sold.

As I've mentioned previously in older posts, we have bought a bare block in Piper Street, Kyneton and our intention is to build a dedicated shop, workshop and residence there for our future. That's all very well and good but in the mean time we having been renting a friends house and had not had a place of our own. But during one of our trips up here I noticed a small house for sale, not far from our other block in Piper Street.

Now I say 'house' loosely, as it's a bit of a shocker, both inside and out, the roofs had it, the stumps are shot and the interior reflects god knows how many years of rental use. But the price was right and it was exactly what I was looking for in respect of a blank canvas and not paying for other peoples renovations which we probably would have removed anyway.

Here's the back. Beautiful 'aint she! If you look at the ridge line of the roof you can see just how much it has sunk in the middle. Inside, it's so bad it's sunk about 250mm over the width of one room. Great!

Here's a photo in the living room - kitchen. No, I haven't got the camera on an angle. The camera is level!

So in between the two Peter Galbert classes that are rapidly approaching, we will be transforming this little house into something closer to a home. We have chosen a style for this place that I think will be fairly unique for this little part of the world. Our trip to the U.S. helped to cement our ideas for the place. Watch this space for the transformation!

Sir Redmond Barry's bookcase.

For those of you who read the post about George Thwaite's Tool Chest, you may remember I mentioned that Thwaites made an large amount of furniture for Sir Redmond Barry. I made note of a few positions that Barry held from his time in Melbourne from the 13th November, 1839 until his death on the 23rd of November 1880. ( Only twelve days after he sentenced Ned Kelly to death, stating - "...and may God have mercy on your soul" and after Kelly replied - " I will go a little further than that and say I will see you there when I go." Make your own conclusions about that one! )

Anyway, untimely and cursed death or not, it is hard not to be a little in awe of the man's achievements during his life in Melbourne. I would repeat them here but there's a limit to my patience and typing ability! So better than that please read all about him here -
it really is very interesting. I would hazard a guess that given both men were prominent in their respective fields and early settlers in Melbourne, that Barry met Thwaites at a social gathering at some point or possibly after Barry had exhibited Thwaite's work in England at the Great Exhibition of 1862.

So whilst I was away I received an email from Mike Green to say that he had read a post on Woodwork Forums from the Great Great Great Grandson of George Thwaites, Phil, about one of George's hand planes. I contacted Phil, via email and we agreed to meet when I returned. Not long after I got home I received another email from Mike to say that Phil had contacted him as well and a trip had been planned to visit Melbourne University and view the Huon Pine bookcase George Thwaites had made for Sir Redmond Barry all those years ago.

So the day arrived and after meeting Phil and his wife Rhonda and another of Mike's friends, Relton from the Furniture History Society, we all made our way into the Uni to view the case....well actually we made the trip 3 times- there was a meeting taking place in that room and they just didn't want to leave!

So here it is. In fact it was actually pretty breathtaking when I first saw it. Partly, because it is housed in the most non-descript, dull and lifeless building on the entire campus, down an equally long and boring corridor in a nameless room, round a blind corner. So you are almost asleep when you walk around the corner and then ..... Bang! there it is, larger than life, amazing proportions and the most spectacular Huon veneer you have ever laid eyes upon.

Here is Barry's crest, the centre piece of the book case. The pictures do not do the scroll/ribbbon carving justice.

Here is a corbel on the top of left corner and another glimpse of the outstanding figured veneer used by Thwaites. It really was something to see.

Whilst we were there the head of the faculty, where the bookcase is held, came into the room to see just why we were all standing around looking at a bookcase. I cant remember if it was Mike or someone else, but when he was told that he had possibly one of Australia's most valuable and iconic pieces of furniture sitting in his building, gathering dust and essentially not being cared for he was more than a little surprised. When he was then told that it's estimated value would be in the 7 figure mark.... he looked a little pale!
It was great to meet Phil and his wife Rhonda and catch up with Relton and Mike again and very good of Mike to organise the whole thing. But most of all it was terrific to see and touch such an Australian  treasure and one made by George Thwaite's own hands.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Joseph Goostray's Pattern Makers Chest

A couple of weeks back, as I mentioned previously, I was lucky enough to get to spend a few hours in the company of antique tool guru, Patrick Leach, in Ashby, Massachusetts. While swimming around the ocean of tools in his 3 car garage, ( see Pete Galbert's blog for photos of this - ) I asked Patrick if he ever came across cabinet makers tool chests that were in tact, with tools etc. Wrong question!  Patrick asked me just what sort of chests in particular and then took Pete and I out in his living room and showed us a spectacular chest that serves as a coffee table at the moment! This chest was amazing in it's own right in that 2 or 3 of the lidded compartments closed with such exacting tolerances that when the lid was let go it closed with a soft but defined thud as the air underneath it cushioned the lid as it closed. Sort of like listening to a Mercedes Benz door close!

If that wasn't enough we were then led into the 'Inner Sanctum,' Patrick's home to his spectacular collection of priceless and rare tools. Ah hellooo Tool Chests!! If you have a thing for authentic, quality made chests and believe me I do, then this was like stepping into chest paradise!

This little fella had some of the most elaborate carving on a chest that I have ever seen....

This chest, although very plainly painted on the outside, was as impressive I believe, as the Seaton Tool Chest. It was absolutely full of every cabinet makers tool you could imagine, most of them hardly used, just like Seaton's and more sliding tills than you could poke a stick at. This is just one stack of sliding drill tills, there was another group at the back for larger forstner type bits.

This highly decorated chest, seen before on Chris Schwarz' Blog was amazing. It was a great example of how a chest in days gone was representative of the makers ability and in this case gave a clear picture of just how skilful this particular maker was at marquetry. The detail of the inlays inside included rules and marking gauges with even the increments marked into the inlay.

The next chest was something though I had not expected to see. A real, fair dinkum, good as you will ever get Pattern makers Chest. I had actually read Patrick's account of how he found this chest, years ago when searching the internet. He found it almost by accident at a yard ( our garage ) sale. It's a great read and can be found on Patricks Supertool website.

This is Patrick levering it open. These chests usually hang from walls on sturdy cleats so it was doing it's best to stay closed. That and the fact that it had a few hundred pounds of tools inside! I wish I could replay the narrative of what Patrick said when doing this, but I don't think it's suitable for this blog! Pete and I had a laugh for a few days afterwards recalling it......

Now this is it open, but what you can see here is not all, there are fold out hanging walls of tools that hinge from inside, each of them just as comprehensive as what you can see here. Patrick described it as the 'working' version of H.O. Studley's pristine chest, made famous from the thousands of posters printed of it by Fine Woodworking magazine. I reckon he's spot on as this is an actual pattern makers chest as opposed to H.O's who was a piano maker.

So after creating a largish pool of drool all over the floor of the Inner Sanctum, I picked my jaw off the floor and we heading back out into reality. One more look into the blood and guts before we left. As we entered the garage again I started to rack my brain for tools that I often think of but never get around to finding. Having just flattened my chair seat by hand at Pete's, I asked if he had a good No.8 jointing plane. Pete turned around and picked one up just beside him. A beautiful 608c Bedrock, in magic condition....

Patrick said the price and I said sold. Simple as that. Then as off the cuff as you like, he said, "oh and there's a little Pattern Makers chest under all that crap, if you that interests you?" A What!? I could get the boxes of tools off it quick enough. Now it was no H.O Studley but when I slid the first little drawer out and sitting in the drawer looking back at me was the pattern makers spectacle like eye goggles, I knew I was onto something. Then we saw his metal stamp for marking his tools and work. Then every drawer in graduating sizes revealed a little more pattern making magic. All the cranked neck gouges, carving chisels and bench chisels, all in their own segmented compartments. Then little wooden boxes containing all his metal scale rules, then drill boxes and on it went.

Here's one of the drawers. The auger bit tray slides out and there's more below....

This drawer has the drill bit box ( large ) fixed to the bottom of the drawer. The long box is for scale rules. The smaller one next to it for specialty adjustable augers. Note the curved wooden form with brass tags on the right side, attached to the drawer bottom..... have a think about it.

As I said, it's no oil painting, but you know that is probably what impressed me a lot about this chest. If you've read my blog you'll know that the frugal habits of old woodworkers really impresses me. In that vein, this guy has converted an old steamer trunk with it's wooden frame inside into a portable chest for his tools. And why not, it's solid, it's a ready made carcass and it's covered in heavy canvas with brass corners! There is a lid to come later.

So Patrick told me what he wanted and I went home that night and gave it a lot of thought, mainly about how I was going to get it home! But, overwhelmingly my decision was based on the likely hood of ever seeing another like it in Australia..... not bloody likely I thought. So I emailed him that night and bought it. Patrick's wife brought it over the next day and I then packed all the tools from it into another box for shipping, taking careful note and photos of how all the tools were arranged for when I re-fitted it. 80 pounds of tools. The chest was then packed in a separate box. Now I just have to get UPS to find the chest which is currently in no mans land when it was shipped from Massachusetts to New Jersey. I think they may have found it in Missouri! It's hard to get good help as they say.

Oh and the strange wooden curved thing on the bottom of the drawer? When Patrick was telling me about the chest he said that it had no planes in it and that the guy must have had a separate chest for them. Ah ha! The curved piece is the relief of a Stanley No. 3 smoother, which it locks in to like a bum in a bucket - so to speak! There is another in a separate drawer for a No. 7 jointer too. Mr. Joseph Goostray thought of everything!