Sunday, 31 March 2013

The old grey mare, she ain't what she used to be

The first Windsor Chair I made with Curtis Buchanan, I used hide glue. I have to admit it was my first introduction to the stuff and by the time I had finished gluing up the legs and stretchers I was well and truly intimidated. You see Curtis mixed his own brew from granulated glue pellets. He then spoke of differing gram strengths, retardation by way of salt, etc etc. At that point all I knew of the stuff was that it was generally made of horse or cow bits and or, as Jack Plane just posted.... The Easter Bunny

At that point Charlie, who was making a chair at the same time, had the misfortune to glue the wrong end of his stretcher into a leg. He realised his mistake the split second he did it. Curtis immediately grabbed that leg and stretcher and wailed on the joint with a dead blow mallet like a man possessed, trying to get it apart. It was a fearsome assault on the leg! I stood there slack jawed and speechless.

The joint held true, didn't even look like budging and shortly after the leg had to cut off the stretcher on the bandsaw and the leg re-turned on the lathe. Wow. That horse sauce had some grip and the tack time was lightening quick. So much so that it put me off the stuff for ages.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself back in the U.S. and in Pete Galbert's workshop. Enter the  hide glue! But before I could work myself into a frenzy about the stuff, Pete showed me the bottle from which it came. Old Brown Glue. Pete swore by it. I glued the stretchers into the legs without issue and with a much more relaxed tack time too.

I went on to use it on all three of the classes that Pete taught when he was out here in Australia. We glued up over 30 chairs and stools in that time, with out so much as one glue related issue. I have since used it exclusively on every chair I've made, all my chair classes and I recommend it to anyone who asks. It really is that good.

Why am I so shamelessly promoting Old Brown Glue I hear you ask? Well that's what you do when you sell the stuff and I'm very proud to say that's just what Lisa and I are now doing as the Australian distributors.

Available in both 5oz and 20oz bottles we have our first shipment on the shelf in the shop already and available for all the budding chair makers out there. How much?  I hear you say.... $10 for the 5oz and $22 for the 20oz. So cheaper than you can purchase it from the U.S. and get it posted out here. No we are not hell bent on making our fortune from glue! And that's exactly how we want it to be. Readily available and not a price where you have to auction off a body part to afford it.

And it's not just for the chair makers either. Developed by Patrick Edwards, one of America's best marquetry experts it is the ants pants for veneering ( and all manner of other furniture making applications! ) and it's about the only glue around that is reversible too. I could waffle on for ever about how good it is, but instead, see for yourself by heading to their website - Old Brown Glue

So if your in the area, stop in and get yourself and bottle.

Oh, the old grey mare, she ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be...........

Sunday, 24 March 2013

From bands into boxes.

This afternoon saw six prospective new box makers fit and finish the tops and bases of their 3 Shaker oval boxes on the second day of our box making course. As I mentioned in a recent post, oval boxes are a very simple form but they are certainly more than the sum or their four parts. Despite the odd delamination of a band here and a copper tack skewing off track there, everyone took home three fine looking boxes. A testament to their hard work over the weekend and attention to detail. 

Good friend Tim came up also and got in on the spirit of things, making 3 great boxes too. 

     Tim's three boxes, with Spalted Ash, Spalted Sassafras and Blackwood tops

                                      Six happy box makers...with a smallish Rundell in the front.

All in all a successful weekends work with about 22 boxes made over the 2 half days. Enough to make me want to get straight back in to the workshop in the morning and make a batch for myself. But that will have to wait as starting tomorrow I'll be teaching a local how to make a Continuous Arm Chair instead....but I'm sure I'll be enjoying that 
just the same!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The George Thwaites Tool Chest - Part II

Some of you who have been following my blog may recall the post about the tool chest of George Thwaites, one of Melbourne's first and most regarded colonial furniture makers. If you haven't seen it, you can read about it here.

George's Chest made the journey to Kyneton with us a little over 18 months ago and has been stored safely since. Time and commitments have meant that I rarely get a chance to do anything but steal a glance at it on occasion. That was until today, when Rob and Libby La Nauze came to visit both me and the chest. I had met the La Nauze's about 8 months ago when they were among a group of George's relatives and other interested parties who came and had a brief look at the chest one morning. Libby is a direct descendant of George.

Recently Rob had been asked to write an article about George's chest and tools. Rob has already written a book on another of member of the Thwaites family, William. William was the Melbourne engineer who was responsible for the entire Melbourne Metropolitan Sewerage system and has been apparently referred to as Melbourne's answer to  'Gustave Eiffel!' Here is a link to Robs book, Engineer to Marvelous Melbourne - The life and times of William Thwaites.

What was exciting about todays meeting at the workshop was the cargo that Rob and Libby arrived with. About 30 or so of George's moulding planes and tools! Rob has fastidiously catalogued and studied all of the planes in his possession and had a wealth of newly acquired knowledge and information, not only about the planes makers, but whether it was likely they were part of the original compliment of tools bought out in 1842, or purchased after George's arrival.

There were some absolutely suburb examples amongst Rob and Libby's collection of planes, including some extremely rare and very sought after makers. I don't want to precede Rob's article with too much information but there was one particular plane that really captured my attention.

This John Moseley & Son plane also had the retailer James McEwan & Co. stamped into the toe. McEwans was one of Melbourne's first hardware stores, having its origins in the Ballarat Goldfields in the 1850's. ( it was to be bought out in the 1990's by the monopoly that is Bunnings..... ) Melbournians of my vintage or older would remember Mc Ewan hardware stores well.

                                                Here's one of their early advertisements.

Could you imagine in those days, walking into your local corner hardware store and being able to put your hands on a brand new John Moseley & Son plane! Outstanding. That would be my kind of hardware store.

Suffice to say we had a great day and lunch on Piper Street, discussing George's chest and tools at length. It seems there is a lot more ground to cover and no doubt more information to come forth which is sure to be very interesting indeed. Thanks Rob and Libby for a very informative day. It's fantastic to talk with people as passionate about our history as I am.  I look forward to uncovering more about George's tool chest in the near future.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

It's hard saying no.

It's hard to believe we are nearly a quarter the way through the year already. It's been a busy year so far with running the shop, setting up and working in the new workshop and opening the cottage for business. Then there's the courses.

                 Some freshly milled Otways Blackwood and Hard Maple bands for the box class

Next weekend we run our first official Shaker Oval Box making class. I've been making them for years now and I still enjoy it as much as the first box I made with John Wilson in Michigan. It's not a difficult process, it's anything but difficult. It's just a case of presenting it in a logical & enjoyable format.

The issue we've been facing lately however is trying to accommodate those who want to take part in our courses. Although we suggest to book early we are still finding that on occasion we are having to turn down people or defer them to a future course.  It's an unfortunate circumstance, so for some classes now we are creating standby lists in the event that we have a cancellation. 

Small consolation, but Lisa and I both feel that it is as important to stick to our business plan which allows for 2-3 courses per month with limited numbers, as well as allowing time for making products for our shop. 

It ensures also that we don't follow down the path of just increasing the course numbers until we reach critical mass, jamming in people like sardines and turning what should be a fantastic learning experience into an uncomfortable and hectic mess. I've experienced it first hand and it's something I wont have a part in again.

                                Fiddleback or curly figured Blackwood in our No.2 box bands.

So while it's hard to say no, think of it as us saying 'yes' - to retaining the quality and integrity that we think sets our business apart from some others. 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


An important year for what was to become arguably one of the most successful and unique religious sects in America, if not the world. It marked the beginning for Shakers and now marks a new beginning for Lisa and I too as we have named our cottage 1774.

With all but the seed for the front lawn being sown, ( no, it's not Shaker seed.... ) 1774 is finished and ready for day trippers, couples or friends wanting a weekend away and enthusiastic chair making and wood working clients to enjoy. A page will be added to our website in the next day or so but in the meantime interested parties can contact us via the contact details on the website.

We offer reduced rates during the week and clients who are partaking in a chair making course can book the cottage for less than half price for the duration of the course. That's cheaper than the local budget motel. Only a leisurely 3 min walk to historic Piper Street, a 5 min walk to the workshop and 10 to the beautiful Kyneton Botanic Gardens and Campaspe River, it's in the ideal position for those wanting to take in all that Kyneton and the region has to offer.

And if your staying here on a Friday or Saturday afternoon/night come and have your first drink at the bar on us! Cheers, and hope to see you in town soon.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

An odd angry shot.

The OK Corral, a Civil War battle or Billy the Kid up against Arizona Rangers? Or perhaps a more contemporary Bonnie and Clyde incident. What was all the conjecture about?

A few days earlier I had been preparing some U.S. Yellow Pine seat blanks for our next Perch class when I saw the familiar shine of metal reflecting back at me from the surface of the timber. My worst fears of a nail or other lump of steel were soon allayed when the metal turned out to be lead. Or more specifically a bullet.

Last month I had been asked by Michael if I could reserve him the next sequential seat blank from my Yellow Pine board, for his second Perch class. He was after a perfect grain match. And this bullet laden blank was that match.

                                                                Nice work fellas.

So on the last day of the Perch class just gone, the Michael, David and I pondered just how that lone bullet found it's way into the Pine tree and how long it may have sat there, undisturbed. Perhaps 10 years, perhaps 100. Either way I'm sure it will be an interesting topic for conversation for the next 100 years too.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Talented Mr.Hill

As promised, here's a couple of Ian Hill's photographs of the Crested Rocker. I went to a lot of trouble to select and mill the Pin Oak for the crest rail particularly, hunting for the perfect ray fleck of the Oak. Ian highlighted this brilliantly. Thanks Ian!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Nuts? Whose Nuts?..... Pine nuts.

Growing up as a kid on Mum & Dad's Cardinia farm, I fondly remember running around picking up pine cones from their two enormous Stone Pine trees, smacking them on the path to loosen the pine nuts and then cracking open the hard shell to get at the tasty pine nuts inside. Of course this would last for about 30 minutes until my attention ( & appetite ) was drawn to something more interesting.....

These two Stone Pines were and still are, landmarks on the flat swamp plains of Cardinia Shire. Dwarfing all other trees, their mushroom like canopies can be seen for miles. Stone Pine, Umbrella Tree, Pinus Pinea  , whatever you like to call it, is a very firm pine, once used as a ship building timber and obviously most noted for producing delicious ( & expensive ) pine nuts. It hand planes beautifully and saws and dovetails equally well. Nice stuff indeed. 

                    2 Poplars with a Pin Oak in the middle of a very large and long tri-axle trailer

Yesterday after picking up 2 massive Poplar logs and a Pin Oak from Woodend ( more on that in another post ), I travelled to the historic Pendleside property in the Yarra Ranges. On this magnificent property, on the outskirts of Woori Yallock, stands some of the most fantastic specimens of european trees in the district. Unfortunately some of these grand old trees have succumbed to the drought just passed and now our hottest summer in recorded history. 

Amongst those that have either fallen over or simply died where they stood, was every last specimen of Stone Pine on the property. Very sad indeed. But, the reality is that trees are living things and as 'they' say - The meaning of life is that it stops.

And when these Stone Pines stopped, Dad was called in to mill them for the owner of the property on a fifty fifty basis. The trees are milled free and payment is half of the milled timber. By the time I got over to Woori Yallock in the afternoon,  Pendleside's  milling was complete and Dad had begun to mill his portion. Amongst his 'lot' was this monster.

At 13 metres ( 42.5 feet for my U.S. friends ) long, 900mm+ ( 35.5inches ) at the butt and 850mm (33.5inches) at the crown, it was immense! Here you can just see Dad in the distance and Pendleside's farm manager Carl with his foot up on the crown end. It's a big twig! Apologies for the poor photo. iPhone with a scratched screen!

Between Dad, Carl and myself we milled half a dozen or so of the smaller Stone Pine logs you can see in the background until about 6pm when we were all well and truly exhausted. The big twig however was docked into 3. Today, Dad had a mate with a crane truck collect it and freight it down to the farm, where we can take our time milling it. 

                                       Logs like this don't grow on trees you know!

Here is a short butt section of one of the smaller logs I milled up just before we finished. Just on 600mm across at it's widest, about 1800mm long. Although not perfect, there are some nice sections for smaller chairs, such as fan backs, children's chairs and bar stools. I'm really looking forward to carving it as a seat stock. Having used it before, ( dovetailing it for boxes and drawers ) I'm figuring it should be somewhere between Eastern White Pine and Elm. That's my kind of pine.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

It's a wrap on the rocker.

Last weekend I put the final touches on the special order Crested Rocker and last night had well respected and immensely talented photographer,  Ian Hill take a few photos of the chair before it left the workshop.

This is NOT one of his photographs, but while it was sitting on the backdrop I couldn't help but grab my camera ( toy-like in comparison to Ian's! ) and take a quick snap. 

Today the rocker was delivered to it's new home, safe and sound. A very happy moment. 

And just as one chair leaves the workshop, tomorrow after a morning spent at our cottage, I'll begin another two chairs. They're a matched pair of painted rockers, something I'm really looking forward to working on. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

From little things, big things grow...

A few weeks back we had an unexpected deluge in Kyneton. It was early evening and after hastily sandbagging the back door I headed off down to the factory to check the damage. A quick run up the ladder and onto the roof cleared out some blocked downpipes and I came back home looking like I'd been swimming in my clothes. But before I could head inside and get changed, Lisa let me know that an acquaintance had rang to say that a large Oak had fallen down in their front yard if I was interested in the timber.

Suffice to say I shot down there straight away, only to see a large portion of a once grand English Oak, sprawled across the drive, front fence and unfortunately a car and the remnants of a fairly new carport! The owner Genny told me that she believed the tree was at least 120 years old and possibly older.

 A glance at the trunk immediately told the story of how the tree had given way. The vast majority of the trunk was one huge termite nest. The little blighters had undermined so much of the tree, that the huge soaking of water was more than the trunk could support and down she came.

The next day champion axeman and oracle of all things tree related, Pat O'Toole and his crew slowly dismembered the tree until it was not much more than a pile of sawdust. On a positive note Pat managed to recover 3 very nice sawlogs for me. Great. And I took away a couple of tandems worth of Oak firewood for the workshop heater. Terrific. 

Due to the damage caused by the first tree an inspection of a second and equally old English Oak in the backyard, found that trees root ball to be almost non existent and so with Council approval it too has had to come down. Pat being the gentleman he is again took the tree down in a manner which preserved the best of the usable timber. Much appreciated.

Today the logs went out to Keith's property just out of town, where I mill all my timber. Keith, like Pat, is another example of an unquestionably helpful and downright good bloke. The logs are piling up out there now, so I'm glad that the weather is cooling as there's a lot of milling to be done. Chairs don't make themselves out of thin air you know! But I have to say, there is something very heartening about being able to produce our chairs and other products out of truly local timber. And I'm glad that some good can come of what was the loss of two very beautiful old trees, which will be missed on the Kyneton landscape.