Monday, 25 February 2013

Square peg in a round hole.

This morning saw me cleaning the workshop, post bucket course.

I then got stuck into final shaping of the crested rocker parts, before glueing it up. There were just a few small parts that I had to make to finish the job. Ten tapered wedges for the legs, arms and stiles, in various widths and lengths and two long 10mm Pin Oak dowels. These dowels are the loose tenons that join the carved arm paddles to the stiles and are then wedged from the back of the stile. For this reason they have to be a precise fit.

Too loose and obviously they will not provide much structural strength, too tight they won't fit or worse still will bind up half way through gluing or worse again they might split what they are being driven into.

Despite knowing of tenon cutters and indeed using one to cut the dowels for the Crested Rocker I made with Pete Galbert in his workshop, I usually end up just turning them on the lathe to size. This can be a little fiddly, given the size.

Well today I finally got off my behind and made a 10mm tenon cutter. Following on from my 'keep it simple' process on my last shave horse, I grabbed a lump of redgum from the scrap bin, drilled a 10mm hole, tapered the in-feed side slightly and cut out a wedge large enough to accept a spokeshave blade at a reasonable angle.  I  then drilled and tapped a threaded insert into the wood and 'borrowed' a nice Hock blade from one of my spokeshaves to test it out. I'll fit a permanent blade later with a curved edge leading into the throat of the cutter.

A stick of Pin Oak roughly rounded at one end and with the edges broken was then chucked into my cordless drill. Then, put square peg into round speed!

                                                             And here's the result.

One 10mm dowel in less than ten seconds. How was the sizing? You'll need to turn up the volume.....

                           Like a bum in a bucket! Should have made one of these things years ago.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Put this on your bucket list

Yesterday a very well kitted out Land Rover and trailer arrived at the workshop. And steering this Pommy mothership was sixth generation Cooper, George Smithwick of Beveridge Coopers,  ready to begin the Coopered Bucket Course. 

The Landy and trailer was laden with Georges tools of his trade, from shave horses to bick irons and everything in between.

A quick coffee later saw the workshop set up and ready for the impending arrival of our first group of aspiring bucket makers.

The day saw the 6 of us fixated while George first ran through the making of a traditional barrel ( the example barrel being one made by his Dad ) and associated tools. He then made a bucket in quick order as a demonstration. 

Then it was our turn. Firstly staves were backed off ready for the temporary hoops, staves were evened up and the 'croze' or rebate cut in the inside of the bottom of the bucket with a croze plane. Dividers determined the head ( bottom of the bucket or barrel ) size which was roughed out on the bandsaw before being chamfered to fit the croze. 

A tin cup of Linseed meal was then mixed up and applied to the croze before the head was popped into place. 

Three flat iron straps were cut to length and peened on a Cooper's bick iron ( essentially a tall narrow anvil ) into the round. The outside of the staves were then shaved round in between each of the hoops being measured to size, hand riveted and fitted to the bucket.

A couple of hoop dogs driven under the hoops and a length of rope spliced through the long staves finished the job, but for one final touch. A decent slosh of water into the bottom to check for leaks. All five passed with flying colours, without so much as a leak.

                                          Five happy bucket makers!........and George!

Here's a few examples of various coopered vessels bought along by George, including an Oak bucket made by his Grandfather. Beautiful.

This little tankard is one of a hundred George made for a trip to the UK a number of years ago. It's pitch lined.

This little cider cask is a work of art. The raised section is integral to that stave. 

Given that I was as much of a novice as the next person, I didn't get a chance to make a bucket of my own, but George was kind enough to leave me with the parts for one and the loan of a bick iron too. So today I shot down to the workshop and made my own. 

And to my immense amusement ( and pride ) it didn't leak either! I even spliced my first rope handle. 

The good  great news is that we will be running another coopered bucket course in the coming months, so please register your interest as soon as possible, as this course just gone, booked out in no time. George and I are also working on probably the most unique woodworking workshop offered here in Australia. So stay tuned for more on that soon......

And for those as intrigued by coopering as me, take a look at this little gem.

It goes for a while, but it's well worth the time.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Rocker update

After turning and rough shaping the arm rests the stepped round mortises were drilled into the stiles. The arms were then further shaped and fitted.

This done, the spindles are then marked out and tapered to a 12-13mm square at their base. This square shaft is then rounded.

After rounding the spindles I then drilled the 7 spindle holes in the rear deck of the Elm seat and individually fitted each spindle to a respective hole.

Drilling the crest to accept the tops of the spindles will round out the last of the drilling for the rocker, with the exception of the small holes for pegging the rockers and crest rail. All still on track for a March 1st delivery.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Whose feet?

Like most of us, I like to think that I have a reasonable grip on general knowledge. You know, stuff in general. I also like to think used to think that I could explain most of the trivia floating around in my head reasonably clearly and coherently. That was then... this is now.

Picture this. Travelling home from Bendigo after picking up some Claret Ash logs, my boy Tom (5) along for the ride. It was hot, we were both tired and Tom was amusing himself with my tape measure. Anyone who's met Tom, knows this is classic Tom.....

"Dad. Why are there wide numbers on the bottom and close numbers on the top?"
"The bottom is in Inches and top is in Millimetres mate." ( you can see where this is going..right? )

"Like inch worm?"
"Well sort of, inches are what Grandad used to use and we use millimetres."

"Why are they different?"
"Ahhh. Mmmm. Well inches were the smaller increment from feet."

"Whose feet?" What's a feet?"
"It's a foot mate. Not a feet."

"So there's only one of them?"
"Sorry T, a foot is an imperial measurement. Not like your foot. But.... I think it originated from the length of someones foot? Perhaps?"

"Like Star Wars. They have the Imperials."
"Ok, yes they.........No No. Nothing to do with Star Wars. Inches are imperial and Millimetres are metric."

"Is metric new?"
"Yes in a way. But not really. It's a bit confusing. There's 12 inches to a Foot, 3 Feet to a Yard, something like 20 Yards to a Chain. Then there's a Furlong and a Mile." 

"I thought it was a foot not a feet. How big is a "Furwrong" ?"
"I don't know."

"Did you say Chain?
"Yes mate." ( Oh please stop... )

"Is that like a Chain?"
"Do you mean a metal chain?"

"I think so. Is that what you mean too? Like Millie's ( Our Jack Russell ) chain."
"No it's an imperial measurement."

"I don't know."

"Whose Yard?"
"What? What do you mean whose.... oh, yeah a yard. The best way I can explain a yard is it's very close to a metre."

Long pregnant pause with a perplexed look on Tom's face.

"Yes mate."

"I like the millimetres."
"Yes mate, so do I."

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Tom's Cottage

Kyneton's strong gold rush history and architecture was certainly a drawcard to us moving to the area. I'm fascinated by old building techniques and methods. If I'm looking around historic buildings I spend as much time staring at framing techniques and joints as anything else. This last week has seen a few old gems revealed within a stones throw of our shop. So I couldn't resist taking a couple of photos for posterity. 

One is the old grain store behind the bluestone flour mill. A new roof should see it last another hundred years at least.

Good friends, fellow workshop occupiers and neighbours Joe and Deb are in the process of renovating and rebuilding a very old weatherboard addition to their brick and bluestone residence. 

'Tom's Cottage' got it's name from the cobbler who lived there sometime around the gold-rush period. But well over a hundred years of neglect have ensured that all of the bottom plates that used to hold up the stud walls have all but vanished into the dirt. What did remain of the walls though was a great insight on how the frames were constructed, what materials were used and just how well they were built.

Here's one of the walls which adjoins the current brick structure. The interesting part being that somewhere along the line a top plate or two has been reused as a stud. Even the tenon from the stud which once stood underneath,  still remains in the mortise. It's well known in the town that post gold-rush, when times became very tough, a vast amount of the buildings that had sprung up overnight to cater for the thousands flooding towards the goldfields, came down just as fast and were sold off or re-used in other dwellings.

On this top plate you can clearly see how a carpenters axe has been used to pair down the 'soldier' into a tenon to fit another mortise. It's so refreshing see good traditional carpentry techniques. It illustrates how sad todays gang nail and glue approach to framing is in comparison. 

The interest wasn't confined to the walls. Here's my very worn boot on one of the original baltic floorboards. The last time I saw floorboards like this was in Hancock Shaker Village. Joe tells me they will be cleaned up and re-used in the build.

Joe's work as a builder focuses on eco-builds and the re-building of Tom's Cottage will be an ideal canvas to showcase these sustainable building techniques. I have no doubt it will be a credit to him and Deb and to our great town too.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Just trotting....

A few more hours spent on the Smarthead shave horse today has seen all of the joinery completed and now only some finishing touches required before it's ready for our Coopered Bucket Course on the 23rd.
Repressing my desperate need for over embellishment, I hid my screw-box then suppressed the memory of where I had hidden it. So with pure utilitarian thoughts coursing through my head, I inserted plain dowels with no threads and raided the scrap bin again for odd bits of timber to use for the clamping head.
A very nice piece of Messmate reared it's head, seemingly calling out to be shaped into the head. Being heavily figured with a very nice fiddle back grain, I rejected it at first, reciting my 'Keep it Simple' mantra in my head. But hang on a minute I thought, Shakers use figured timber too. It's just the way they used it that mattered.

I quickly squared, cut and laminated the head together after cutting the through mortise for the pegged tenon. While the lamination was setting up I marked out, drilled, measured and turned the two stretchers for the front and back legs. By this time the head had set and I shaped it quickly on the router table.The middle of the head needs to be a little more narrow for my liking, but I'll work that out tomorrow.

The Blackwood in stretchers and legs was some that I had collected on my trip to Otways with Pete Galbert, Murray Kidman and Carl Karascay. My crafty sub-conscious will always find a way to make these things have meaning to me.....

One of the more important factors of the way this, or any shave horse works, is the balance of the clamping mechanism. You want the head to lift and the treadle to return somewhat close to vertical when pressure is taken off the foot lever or treadle plate.

When balanced properly the operator merely has to shift the weight of his foot on the treadle to be able to turn the workpiece then re-apply pressure to clamp. It makes for very quick work in shaping spindles or any other chair parts for that matter.

So with this in mind I found the angle I wanted for the treadle plate, then raided the wood pile again. This time I grabbed a lump of Elm, partly because of the weight, partly its size and mainly due to its strength and interlocking grain. I don't want this treadle to give way any time soon.

I cut the through mortise purposefully forward of centre so that at present it is heavily overbalanced underneath. Tomorrow I will merely trim the back of the treadle incrementally until I get the balance just how I want it. Then a quick hand plane over the lot, trim the dowels, arris all the edges and seal it with a splash of something or other to keep the marks off and this horse will be ready for it's first good run. Giddyup!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The simple things........

With only a hour between a morning spent elsewhere and picking up Tom from school, there was not much time for work on the shave horse today. I always seem to be in a quandary when it comes to making jigs or tools that I use around the workshop. Part of me wants to make 'it' , ( whatever that 'it' may be )  as perfectly as possible. Same reason why we all like to buy quality tools to use. The other part of me just says "for *#@% sake, just make the thing and lets get on with it ! "

There are small problems associated with both. Spending too much time making jigs and things which are essentially utilitarian, is not exactly a proactive use of time. On the other hand making things that end up looking like they've had a beating with the ugly stick doesn't project the work you'd like to be known for and are certainly not as pleasant to use or have around the place. 

And so it is with the shave horse I'm making at the moment. The last two I made a few years back,  I spent perhaps a bit more time than was necessary. 

The first was made from a single slab of Tassie Myrtle and was adorned with an original H V McKay Tractor seat and a compliment of hand cut wooden threads on all the pivot pins. 

The second was solid New Guinea Rosewood, has a similar seat and a horses hoof carved on the front leg! Overkill? Yup, especially when they fall over in the back of the ute, get cut by the odd drawknife and generally knocked about. 

So with that in mind this one will not be anywhere as elaborate. The main frame and parts are Maritime Pine I milled a while ago. The 'Smarthead' mechanism, some odd bits of English Ash I had lying about.

 In a brief hour I managed to cut the angled frame and cut the mortise in the frame and clamp bed, where the leg of the mechanism will project through. 

And so I have decided to adopt a 'Shaker' ideal with this horse. Make it well, with simple clean lines and no unnecessary embellishment. You know, the KISS principal - Keep It Simple - Stupid. Perhaps I should lock up the carving chisels and thread cutting screw boxes......just to be on the safe side!  Hope to get it close to finished tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Cool Stuff

Despite some days running around in ever decreasing circles, not knowing which way to go or where to start, I have to say I wouldn't change things for love nor money. I enjoy what I do, I enjoy making chairs and pretty much playing around with wood in general, in one way or another. I most often work alone, so I also enjoy seeing ( and hearing ) what others are up to whether locally or on the other side of the world. It might be something as simple as seeing what timbers others are using or unearthing a new technique.  As Einstein said, " Once you stop learning, you start dying." 

The other day when I checked out Greg Pennington's blog - Around the Shop ( link in the Blog List column on the right )  I was quite surprised to see a few parallels, albeit way over yonder in the States. Greg's work is superb, Windsor chairs and furniture alike. Greg, like Pete Galbert, is also responsible for a few techniques and contraptions which make my work in making Windsors much more enjoyable and accurate to boot. One of those being the use of lazers in teaching the reaming of holes and also Greg's part in the making of a very clever new mechanism for a shave horse. Here's the link to Pete's blog where it all began.....

So when I saw that Greg had been milling some sassafras for chair seats that got my attention. Then I saw a finished Elm seat in what looked like a Sack Back ( a Double Bow if your across the pond from the U.S. ). The trifecta was seeing the last photo of one of Greg's students' new 'Smart Head' shave horse. 

I've just finished a perch in Black Heart Sassafras and I'm half way through the Crested Rocker with a nice one piece Elm seat. 

Unbelievably, just that day Tim McLeod and I had finished working on the mechanism guessed it, a couple of Smart Head shave horses! 

No it's not the para-normal, voodoo or black magic but it's a pretty cool coincidence. I guess what it also tells me is that good chair making wood, is good chair making wood, no matter where you are. Good wood working tools and fixtures are the same and most people know what's good when they see it. But most importantly for me it emphasises how lucky I am to have people like Greg Pennington, Pete Galbert and a host of others both near and far who are as passionate about what they do as I am and are sharing their wisdom with the rest of us. Now that is pretty cool.

Monday, 4 February 2013

A special Rocker

In amongst a few Perches, Shaker furniture and oval boxes, cutting boards and home-wares I've been slowly making one Pete Galbert's Crested Rocking Chairs.

 This is the rocker that I learnt to make from Pete himself in his then newly set up chair making workshop in Sterling, Massachusetts. According to Pete, I was the first person to make a chair in that shop for about 150 years or so. It turned out it had belonged to Newton Burpee, one of Sterling's very original Windsor chair makers of the late 1700 to early 1800's. Incredible stuff.

Anyway, not having access to green ( freshly felled, not the colour.... ) White and Red Oak and magnificent Butternut that I used for my American chair, I am substituting both for timbers I have milled here over the past few years. For the seat I have substituted the Butternut for 100+ year old Elm, which hailed from Daylesford, just 25mins down the road from us. The rest of the chair will be made from select Pin Oak. This particular log was one that I had salvaged from the Domain Gardens, just North of the gates to Government House. I don't have much of it left now, so it's pretty valuable to me.

GIven that the timber is limited and the process is relatively complex, from a Windsor chair making persepective, I have been taking my time to ensure that there will be no errors. A simple error in a perch or continuous arm chair merely means making a new part from readily available timber. Making an error with the Crested Rocker means expensive firewood and re-making steam bent parts from my limited supply. 

I'm not intending on a blow by blow account of how the chair was made, but just thought I'd show a few photos of the Rocker as it takes shape. Last post saw the seat bowl roughed out.

Here is the seat fully shaped and ready for final smoothing with card scrapers and light sanding. 

The grain pattern in the Elm is outstanding.

The stiles are steam bent as octagons which allows ease of working through other stages of their shaping and fitting to the chair. 

Reaming the stiles into the seat is a little complex due to the stiles being curved and not in a straight axis. As well as being accurately raked to the desired angle they also must be parallel in both planes, the crest rail parallel to the seat and splayed correctly to ensure the crest tenons fit accurately into the mortises cut into the stiles. So just a few things to watch for.....

Here are the stiles and crest from the top the chair with the stiles reamed. I use a pair of winding sticks to check alignment. 

I have to step away from the rocker for a few days now as other projects are calling but stay tuned for the next instalment where I will have the arms posts reamed, arm paddles reamed and shaped and a few of the spindles roughed out.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Course Updates.....

Lisa and I couldn't be happier with the response we have had to our first round of classes at our Central Highlands Workshop. With chair, perch, box and bucket classes booking up we have a few spots left, but we really would recommend that if you are interested in a class to contact us sooner rather than later, as we are receiving enquiries daily.

Also, if it's a chair you want to make and our dates don't suit then please let us know what dates might work for you. This is for chair courses only though and not Perches.

Short and sweet tonight as sleep beckons and a rocking chair demands my full attention in the morning! That and a 5 year old boy who has yet to discover the joy of sleeping in! Cheers....