Monday, 30 July 2012

Christmas in July

Well that's the first thing that came to mind today. I had a trip down to the Yarra Valley to meet up with a fellow I met recently while demonstrating at Mont de Lancey. I'd agreed to come across and have a look at a largish amount of Chestnut trees that had become available. Russell and I headed across to two nearby farms and it was worth the trip. About a dozen Chestnut logs of a good size.
 ( apologies for the following pictures, they were all taken on my phone - left the camera at home. )

Back at Russell's farm he asked if I was interested in a Holly tree. It seems it had been growing up along side the old barn ( and I mean old, all the weather boards are split/riven - not sawn! ) and causing it some trouble. I was expecting a wispy and gangly tree. When I cast my eyes upon the trunk of the tree........Christmas in July.

The main trunk was over 450mm ( 17.5" ) at the base and over 2m dead straight without a branch or inclusion. Another 3 good smaller logs came from above where the trunk bifurcated. A trip further down the same paddock and two Chestnut trees that were on their way out, came down and straight into the back of the ute.

If that wasn't enough I was also treated to a guided tour of Russell's beautiful old property, which has been in his family since the late 1800's. The wonderful part is that a great amount of the tools, buildings, fixtures and fittings, remain on the farm, most of them in their original place! It was like walking into a time capsule. Too much to list in one post, but when time permits I'll post a few more of the interesting aspects.

But here is something that really jumped out at me. Anyone who has followed Robin Wood's Blog would have seen the brilliant Australian short film of Bill Boyd and Mark Garner restoring Coolamine Homestead.

Here 'tis -

When Bill ( or anyone else for that matter, doing the same job ) starts to remove the waney edge of a log in readiness for squaring up with the broad axe, he first walks the length of the log, checking it out with a felling axe before splitting off the wood between the checks.

Under one of the biggest English Oaks I've ever seen, just across the yard from the original homestead, sits this old pig sty. Built well over a hundred years ago, this 'drop slab' sty is quite something. As soon as I walked up to take a closer look and check it's construction, this jumped out at me.

The check marks of the felling axe, still as vivid as if they had been left there yesterday. All of the posts have them..... and I forgot to add, I saw Russell's Great Grandfather's Broad Axe too, which more than likely squared these posts, amazing.

The drop slab with the 'post box' slot in the background, was where the slops were fed through the slab to the pigs. There is a little ramp which you can see the end of, which sits in the slot and directed the slop into a hand adzed pig trough. Yes, both of the troughs were still in the sty, in tact.

A great day and a step back in time. Thank you Russell.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Rock House

Rock House is one of many iconic period homes in Kyneton. Built of Bluestone in 1853-4 on the Western banks of the Campaspe River, it is a large and substantial 'U' shaped home. It was built by Scottish stonemasons for Edward Argyle, then a wealthy pastoralist, who had made his money in butcher shops in Melbourne before moving to Kyneton.

The Scots would also build a flour mill for Argyle on the Campaspe River, which unfortunately fell into ruins and was scavenged for materials for a barn, built around 1905 on the property. Argyle's son Stanley would go on to become 'Sir Stanley Argyle,' the Premier of Victoria.

Although Rock House is not visible from the roadway, there is a hint of what lies beyond in the majestic Elm lined driveway that winds it's way North, above the river bank. As with all things living, time eventually catches up and it did so for one of these old timers, coming to rest in the paddock next to the driveway. A few days after it came down I received a phone call from the owner of Rock House, Ray, who generously offered the Elm to me to be milled rather than go to waste.

Here is the goliath on it's side, you can make out my ute in background for comparison. It was a slow process to carefully and safely bring it all down to ground level, but after a couple of hours I had reduced it to 10 mill-able logs and a considerable load of firewood.

Here are a few of them next to the 660, which is well over a metre long, handle to tip of the bar. There should be a little crotch too in some of those forks ( note the one sitting under my hardhat ), so I'll put the skip tooth chain on and rip a couple in two to see what they are like.

There's a few days of cottage work ahead of me but then I'm hoping to get a start on some of the Elm that I have sitting, waiting to be milled. The Rock House Elm will be marked accordingly and will definitely be put aside for something special, as it richly deserves.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Extracting the extractor

The final piece of commercial kitchen equipment exited stage left yesterday from the shop. What was revealed when the last stainless steel panel and exhaust canopy were removed was a complete mess.

Holes smashed through the original laden plaster, ceiling joists, rafters and clap boards cut away and a general bastardisation of a historic building, with no consideration whatsoever for the fabric of the old place. In a way, it was really quite distressing to see.

I had a short space of time to get the exhaust canopy, flue and motor out, the frame repaired and the roof re-clad with a new sheet of iron before the forecasted rain arrived in the afternoon. As soon as I got the old sheet off I took the opportunity to crawl inside the ceiling space and have a look around.

What I was pleased to see was that when the roof was replaced about 15 years ago, the owner at the time had obviously exercised a little more discretion and had retained a very important part of the building.

The original split timber shingles or shakes. The great thing was that they were in remarkable condition too. Dry and free from rot. What a bonus! Whilst crawling around up there I saw something that I had not seen before nor could work out what they were.

On the North face were a couple of leather strips which were nailed into the clap boards. They were consistent in age with the rest of the building, looked like they had been roughly cut off a side of green hide and nailed in place. If someone out there knows why they were there and what they were used for I appreciate a heads up? They certainly weren't everywhere but I could see about 6 or so.

Anyway back to the repairs. Ceiling joist and rafter repaired, insulation returned and I replaced the lath over the hole in the ceiling.

Last but not least a new sheet of iron to seal it all up. Just have to wait a while for it to dull off and match the rest of the roof. Note the great scroll detail on the ridge, which thankfully was replaced when the new roof was put on. It's made of sheet metal and soldered together, from a day when every trade took pride in their workmanship. It's workmanship of that kind that has played a big part in this building standing the test of time.

As it's custodian for the foreseeable future, I hope I can help to maintain it in a manner commensurate with it's importance to the town and for the next person who will become a part of it's history in years to come.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A fly in the soup......

Using a hydraulically operated bandsaw makes for an interesting day out. Ask Jack Plane, as he and his wife Virginia found last Sunday when they ventured to Cardinia to watch Dad's Timberking Bandsaw Mill in full swing. You can read about it from Jack's perspective here -

 It was a great morning with some lovely Elm boards coming off a superb log.

After Mr and Mrs Plane had left, I kicked the mill in the guts again and met with another Plane who's company was not anywhere as entertaining. In fact I wish we'd never met.

You see I had a London Plane log which was promising to be quite a good specimen that I had ripped in two ready for the mill. I swung the flitch onto the machine and took the first waney edge off the top. About 3/4's of the way through, the familiar and teeth gritting 'zip' noise of the saw hitting something other than wood, bounced back at me. I slipped the slice off the top and was relieved to find that the blade had only just nicked the very edge of the top of a bullet head nail, just under the skin of the sapwood. That was lucky........

Spoke too soon didn't I. You can see the nail hole where the 3" nail was removed. Well a suspicious bump just in front made me chop the top off that bump and Voila! another 6 nails in a nice little clump! I guess Little Johnny was given a hammer and a pack of nails that year for Xmas......... hope he hit his thumb.

No matter how I turned that log on the machine, I hit nail after nail after nail. The unusual thing was that usually nails are only encountered in the first 6"or so of the trunk. These nails went all the way through. I stopped counting after the 20th and stopped trying to dig them out too.

Here's the pile I did remove.  But despite the nails and the damage they left behind, after working with London Plane over the past few weeks, it was all worth it in the end. Now I just have to hurry up and wait 'til it dries. Irony is I have a hell of a lot of nailing to do in the mean time!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Now we are ...5

A few weeks back we had a very special day here in Kyneton. Tom's fifth birthday party.

It was a brilliant day with picture perfect weather. Tom and his friends had a ball. Mostly just running about the Botanical Gardens chasing each other.....hyped up on the spoils of a severely accosted piƱata!

A great reminder of what is important and where priorities lay. Sure making progress is great. Working hard is important. Achieving goals is rewarding. But it counts for nothing without the love of your family and friends. A happy and healthy family at that. This photo of my latest milling efforts reminded me of that. Happy birthday mate.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Weren't we having a drought??

With rainy days being the order of the day for the past week or so, I've managed a few more stints in the shed working on the detail for the cottage. I seem to spend the evenings with my head buried in the volumes of books I have on Shaker furniture and following days dodging rain and putting those references into practice.

In doing so I sometimes find that I get caught up in the finer detail and have to rein in my want for absolute reproduction and instead make a compromise. Some of it is governed by time and some by material.

For instance I'd love the luxury of being able to pull out some of the lovely old Moseley moulding planes I have and cut some detail in the doors by hand. I'd also like to be using beautiful quarter sawn American Cherry for my doors, drawer fronts and face frames, but lets face it, that's a whole lot of Cherry and at the price we pay for Cherry here in Oz, more than I can justify ( or afford! )

But, London Plane ( Sycamore for my U.S. friends ) 'aint such a bad compromise and I have to say it's a very satisfying feeling walking around the back of the shed and picking boards from the rack that you have milled yourself. The face frame is the same hardwood ( Vic. Ash, Tassie Oak - call it what you will ) stock that I am using for the architraves, skirting boards and peg rails for the entire house. I feel they compliment each other quite well actually.

Although I have quite a few boards of Plane, few were thick enough for door frame stock, so the ability to play with the grain was limited. The drawer fronts however allowed for a little more scope, with the exception of the two bottom drawers which just scraped in height wise. In fact the bottom drawer was a little undersize. ( ... I have to admit I did indulge and flatten that board with the hand plane, it was too wide for my thicknesser! ) I'll leave in situ for a day or so and if the gap continues to bother me, then I guess I'll cut up and flatten another board.

Another trip to the wood rack and some of the first Poplar boards I had milled, walked the plank into the shed. I had been told once by someone who considered himself a bit of an expert on the matter, that the Poplar species that grew here in Australia were sub-standard to U.S. Poplar. I've now used both and spent a good deal of money importing the U.S stuff to boot, in order to do so. And I have to say there is not an ounce of difference between the two. As they say about 'experts'..... X is an unknown quantity, and a 'spirt' is a drip under pressure.

Drawer sides for the four drawers ready for marking out and dovetailing. As well as being graduated in size all the sides and backs are also graduated in thickness. Nothing worse than a thick drawer I say. OK, there may be a few things worse, but you know what I mean.......

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A Bird of a different feather.

Tom Craw sent me through the finished pictures of his Peter Galbert designed Bird Cage Arm Chair. Tom was one of a handful of guys including myself that were lucky enough to take a five day private class with Pete when he was out here around the start of the year. It was a whirlwind 5 days. Note the one piece Elm seat.

In fact that Elm in the seat draws my eye every time I look at the chair. Which brings me back to the question, to paint or not to paint? I don't regret for a minute painting my birdcage, but obviously to the untrained eye it is not immediately apparent just how 'special' the wood choice is for my seat. But, does that mean that instead of looking at the chair as a whole or seeing its form, my focus is lost in staring at the grain? Tough one and I don't think there is a right or wrong answer.

One thing is for sure, they are both beautiful chairs. Great work Tom.

Locked up.

The huon pine window has been fitted to the bathroom wall and trimmed outside with the architraves and bead and with that the cottage is officially 'locked up.' And not before time, there's another frost in the morning and we are experiencing the coldest winter here for the last 10 years.

I almost felt sick when I painted the Huon Pine, but it has to match the rest of the windows and doors from the outside. I do like the fact you can see the Huons colour through the window though, a hint of what will be inside.

And so the rest of the fit out continues. The cupboard doors above the fridge, which is also the entry to the loft in the ceiling space.

So I raided the wood rack and pulled out a heap of London Plane that I had milled very early in 2011. Amongst the dozen boards there were two boards around 30mm thick for rails and styles and the board in the top photo which was around 20mm, which I would use for the panels.

An arvo without so much as a coffee break and the two doors were made. The London Plane has great figure and the left style even showed some spalting.

Glued up and a couple of Gidgee handles turned. Tomorrow morning some hinges on and hang them. Then it's off to the Berwick District Woodworkers Club for a Windsor Chair making demo tomorrow night.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Skill not Skimp

Yesterday I had a little turning to do.  Just a couple of hundred Shaker style pegs is all. In fact I think it's about 210 to be precise. In conjunction with their beautiful built in furniture, the peg rail system was the backbone of the Shakers well organised and tidy homes and meeting rooms. Everything from mirrors, candle holders and shelves was hung from them, even their  ladder back chairs. I'd taken a heap of photos both in New York at the Met and at Hancock Shaker Village, so I had an accurate account of what I needed to reproduce.

My 'handy' measuring tool, always there when you need it.

So while I'm waiting for the order of hardwood architraves, peg rails and skirting boards for the cottage to arrive, I thought I'd get a start on the pegs. I have had a good amount of Blackwood shorts sitting around for a while, so they were cut into 100mm ( 4") blanks and away I went.  I have to say I wasn't looking forward at first to turning so many pegs, but after a while a got them down to about one every couple of minutes. A few things help, some simple marks on the tool rest ( in lieu of a template ) to know where to part to. Limiting the unnecessary changing of tools, ie: not chopping and changing from parting tool, to roughing gouge, back to the parting tool, then to the skew and then a spindle gouge etc etc. And a good playlist of your favourite music to turn to helps!

That rhythm was quickly sorted, parting tool to size, roughing out with the gouge, the spindle gouge to create the flowing curve to the shaft and finally the skew to shape the mushroom top and tidy the shaft of the peg. Each tool only handled once throughout the process. Very simple and the results were exactly as I envisaged. Added to this was the usual feeling of satisfaction you get when you have made something by hand. A touch of pride. Something that with a little skill building 99% of wood turners could accomplish with little trouble.

So it always amazes me just how many people gravitate towards machines that diminish the necessity for any skill at all. For instance using a copy lathe to turn a large number of units, such as the pegs. 

Yes a copy lathe would turn them out faster and obviously with more exacting uniformity, but when that uniformity is lifeless and dull, due to the limitations of the machine, where is the benefit? And does using a copy lathe for this simple task assist in honing your skills for when the time comes for you to tackle turning something more complex, such as a baluster leg for a windsor chair? Of course not. You are back at square one and none the wiser. I don't get the attraction. Perhaps someone can tell me what I'm missing?

And no, I'm not talking about a bandsaw, table saw or even a drill press. But more so the infinite amount of jigs and contraptions that are flooding onto the market.  I've watched as the mass consumerism monster has brainwashed the average wood worker to believe that they cannot exist without the latest  injection moulded plastic gadget, vacuum assisted clamp or multi purpose multi bladed interchangeable rechargeable battery operated power tool!  You can even buy a backyard workshop sized CNC machine! Horribly cast and manufactured in China of course. And put together with just enough low quality material to ensure that in a few short years ( or less ) it will become landfill and you will be back in the same Mega-Store buying the next generation of the same rubbish machine. Brilliant!  I call it 'dumbing ourselves down.' It's as if we are signing up to be less 'able,' to allow ourselves to have a machine pop out a creation at the touch of a button, a creation which is 'ok' but we accept it's mediocracy because it's FAST . 

I guess what I'm trying to say is trust in yourself and if you don't yet possess the skills to achieve something, try. And if in trying you waste a few hours, so what? I guarantee you will be richer for the experience and more competent too. Practise makes perfect, with practise comes speed and best of all you can have pride in your achievement. Some self satisfaction.

So cut a dovetail by hand, chop out a mortise with a mortise chisel, carve something by hand or turn a peg. I guarantee you'll love it and it may just delay the 'bigger is better' CNC machine and copy lathe purveyors spreading their wrongness any further to the masses. Now back to those pegs.....