Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Getting a grip

I do like a good garage sale. Car boot sale, clearing sale, antique auction, garage sale. Call them what you will, but if there's old stuff, covered in rust and dust, then I'm a happy camper. So what's better than a good garage sale? How 'bout the annual Kyneton Garage Sale Weekend! 
Yes that's right, purveyors of stuff both old and new, valued and valueless have their address added to a secret map, which is handed out for $3 a pop, at 8am on Saturday morning. From that point the race is on to get to as many of the garage sales as possible before anyone else.

I was fortunate enough to ride shotgun in a van with a good friend David and his Dad John, who are seasoned garage sale specialists. If we went to one sale that day, we went to fifty! Some streets in the town had 3 or 4 sales per street. By lunch time the van was full to the brim and we were pining for coffee.

Strangely enough for me, I didn't buy a heap of stuff that day. But one particular sale on the outskirts of town sticks in my mind. A heap of stuff spread out in the front house paddock of a small farm. Amongst the old bicycles and junk was a broken plastic tub with a heap of old rusty iron in it and a few old porcelain insulators, the kind you would find on old telegraph posts. On the top of the heap was an old rusty strap style gate hinge. I'd been looking for one to pair up to another forged hinge I already have. 

Great, I thought as I headed over to get a price. The old fella came over and asked what tub it had come out of and then proceeded to tell me the whole tub was 3 dollars. "I really don't want all this rubbish," coursed through my mind as I handed over the gold coins, but it was a cheap hand made hinge all the same. 

As I bent down to pick up the tub my eyes focussed on one of the rusty bits of iron. There in front of me was a very old iron 'parallel guide' from a leg vise. God knows how long it must have been sitting around rusting away. Bargain.

But not much use unless you have a good screw mechanism to go with it I hear you say? Well I can't even remember where I found this old one, but it's been waiting for a home for years. So into the molasses with both of them and when they come out, they'll go onto a new workbench for the workshop classroom. One mans trash is another man treasure........especially for three bucks.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Smooth running

When I made my woodworking pilgrimage of sorts to the U.S. I visited a number of well known furniture makers workshops. Some, such as George Nakashima's, are still active and vibrant workshops, producing pieces in the style of Nakashima's original work. Wharton Esherick, who like Nakashima, is said to be one of the founding fathers of modern American furniture, has had his unique home and workshop turned into a small museum.

A fascinating insight into Esherick's work and lifestyle, his home showcases not only his unique sense of style but also some extraordinary and ingenious craftsmanship. A walk through his kitchen shows random edged floorboards which have been beautifully interwoven, creating one of the most unique wooden floors I've seen. This eye for detail and creative flair are echoed throughout the home, at every turn, like ascending the spiral staircase while holding its mammoth tusk hand rail !

One thing which is not immediately apparent is hidden under Eshericks bed. Large drawers ( which still contain Eshericks clothing ) that given their size, under normal circumstances would be heavy to open and close. The guide who showed them to us, opened and closed them with one finger, effortlessly. The secret was that the drawer sides were more than double the actual length of the drawer, in fact they passed the opposite side of the bed, through the wall under the window and went some distance under the skillion roof outside. These extra long sides give the drawers perfect balance and ensure that the drawers do not bind up on the kickers or runners. Quite clever.

Wanting the basin stand to resemble a Shaker nightstand meant a single drawer at the front. But having a basin sitting above that drawer of course means a waste pipe and trap, right in the middle. My first thought was to have a false drawer front, complete with turned drawer pull. But the thought of people pulling at the faux drawer, perhaps mistaking it for being jammed, until something breaks or they start dragging the nightstand across the floor, quickly put me off that idea. I then thought of a short drawer, only 100 - 125mm ( 4 - 5" ) deep, but concern over it being pulled from the carcass and out onto the floor, put an end to that. 

That's when I recalled seeing the Esherick drawer. And so the drawer sides are full length and instead of through dovetails at the end of the drawer, simple through mortise and tenons instead, setback to allow for the drain. 

No unnecessary stress on the nightstand, no pulling a short drawer out by accident and a smooth running drawer which allows for the basin. 

Memory is the diary we all carry about with us. - Oscar Wilde.

Monday, 15 October 2012

More old stuff...

Lots of things to do as per usual but sometimes you have to take five and smell the roses. Sunday was such a day and found me in the back blocks of Trentham on the hunt for timber. Well I didn't have to hunt too far or wide as this timber, Hawthorn to be precise, was sitting in a very large heap in Tom's paddock waiting to be burned.

I had mentioned to a new acquaintance Stuart, that Hawthorn was a useful timber for turning into handles, draw-pulls etc. ( it also ebonises well ) and had shown him a long 'slick' handle that I had turned from some Hawthorn from Dad's farm. The following day saw us selecting some nice long lengths of Hawthorn trunk from the pile. Enough to fill more than half of the ute. Thank you Tom and thanks Stuart!

While we were there Tom's son Angus, gave us a tour of the rest of the farm including one particularly nice old stone building near the banks of the Coliban River.

This old beauty which is thankfully fenced off from livestock was too interesting to pass by without having a look. Buildings like this have such an interesting story to tell, if your prepared to listen....or look.

On walking inside I immediately looked up and saw the original hand split shakes in the roof. While staring wide eyed at the perfectly split shakes, I cast my eyes towards the rafters and noticed the tell tale diagonal saw marks on them. A closer look ( unfortunately very hard to see in the photo taken with my phone ) confirmed that the rafters were indeed pit-sawn, another indication of just how old the building was.

Just as interesting were the tiles on the floor, which again were hand made and as Stuart recognised, contained flecks of quartz and other impurities amongst the clay. The last time I had seen hand made colonial tiles like these was at Mont de Lancey Homestead in Wandin, where they hold them in great esteem. I know it's hard work and it costs money but we all should do everything we can to ensure these connections to our past don't fade away to a distant memory, as once they are gone, they're gone for good.

After running around preparing for a days saw milling tomorrow, I did manage to fit in a little more work on the Huon Pine Vanity/stand for the bathroom, getting the frame glued, the top re-sawn, milled, glued and beveled and the drawer stock milled and dovetailed.

The drawer runners and kickers just have to be fitted and drawer the finished off, then the top planed and fitted. The drawer will be a little unusual too as it will have to stop short to allow for the basin waste pipe. More on that later.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Shaker Nightstand in Huon Pine

A few posts back I gave a brief list of some of the furniture I intend to make for the cottage. I had omitted one piece as it will actually be more of a fixture or built in. 
Commonly known as a Shaker Nightstand they were made in most if not all the communities in differing forms. Variations were made to the legs, some turned instead of tapered and the tops were both undercut and straight edged. Most often they only had a single drawer.  They were both oiled and painted. The nightstand for the cottage is being made as a stand for the hand basin in the bathroom and like all the other furnishings in the bathroom will be made from solid Huon Pine. Virtually impervious to water, it should be ideal for its intended use.

I've made 5 of these little tables now and as well as being aesthetically pleasing they are very easy to make. Just like any piece of furniture really in that if you follow some very basic steps it goes together without much trouble. 

I had come across a supply of Huon which I had earmarked for this piece, but it has taken a while to materialise. So with some regret I hauled out my railway sleeper sized piece of Huon and began to break it down. The flip side of the coin being that the entire nightstand will be from the one flitch so the colour match will be perfect. I couldn't guarantee this with the other supply.

All previous nightstands I've made have been to order and to fill a particular use or place and so all have been differing sizes. The basin that will sit on this stand is 130mm high so I worked backward to make it a comfortable height to wash your hands. This gave me the overall height of 690mm. From that basic measurement and the pre determined void that the stand will fill, it was just a case of ensuring the rest was in proportion. 

Given that the Huon flitch was over 1800mm ( approx 6' ) long with a slight curve a third of the way down, I first broke it down into smaller components to ensure I didn't lose too much in jointing and thicknessing it. 

With the parts prepared, I marked out the top divider and dovetailed the tops of the front legs. I like to make the top and bottom dividers a little wider than average and dovetail/tenon them into the upper and lower doublers. It may be overkill but I like them to have the extra strength top and bottom, especially when the drawer is extended and puting racking pressure on the carcass.

With the legs and upper doublers dovetailed and the bottom divider tenoned into the legs and lower doublers, the rails were mortice and tenoned and the whole thing stood together to check for fit. I then cut the drawer front to the exact dimension of the drawer opening and tapered the four legs. 

I would usually taper legs on a nightstand to half of their upper dimensions, but in this case I have left them slightly heavier. This is due to the weight of the basin and the fact that people may be inclined to lean on it. I don't think the extra 3mm will adversely affect the overall proportions.

So at the end of a fairly relaxing day all of the parts for the carcass have been rough cut and readied for hand planing tomorrow prior to being assembled. I'll then re-saw the last lump from the flitch to create a nice book matched top. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

A few steps closer

As the old adage goes, 'red sky at night, shepherds delight.' The weather has certainly turned the corner. With that I've been able to move outside and get on with the finishing touches to the outside of the cottage. One of those is the stairs and balustrading on the deck.

My dealings to date with stairs have been climbing and descending them and I think once falling asleep up some, but I digress. So with my carpenters square in hand and a pair of old stair gauges that I must have bought 4 or 5 years ago ( perhaps I had a vision of a future staircase? ) I set to work on the Macrocarpa planks Dad had bought up for the job.

Working on a rough angle of 40 degrees I found I needed 4 steps or goings. Then, settling on the tread width I was able to calculate the exact riser height and thereby where the stringer would fall. The gauges were then placed on the square at the tread width and riser height and the stringer marked out.

So with trusty circular saw in hand I cut the first stringer and checked it for fit. Having now managed to use trigonometry successfully for the first time since high school, I used the first stringer as a template to mark out and cut the other two. Three treads were then cut and milled to size ( the fourth tread being the the decking boards ). The whole thing was then glued and screwed together with heavy 100mm galvanised bugle head screws and given a good coat of primer. It will be the same colour as the house.

Before setting the stair in place, I fitted two short galvanised stirrups with 90x 90 cypress posts to the underside of the bottom tread and stringer. With these fitted,  I lifted the stair into place, the stirrups seating themselves into holes I had pre-dug and half filled with a wet mix of concrete. Levelled and screwed to the deck bearer, the remainder of the holes were filled with concrete and the stair braced in place to set. Not bad for a first time, I thought. ( Did I pass Wayne?? )

Sterling M.A., Circa 1800

Kyneton, Circa

The rest of the deck posts will be fitted tomorrow, then the rails, balusters etc. I took a cue for pegging the posts from seeing Pete Galbert's Chestnut newel post in his 18th century Massachusetts house. Hopefully before to long I'll be enjoying a relaxing drink on the deck instead of building it!