Sunday, 28 April 2013

Different chairs, same result.

This evening I had the reason why I teach others to make chairs re-iterated to me.

Mike finished his Perch today. Great guy and a fine result. Mike took to every technique like a duck to water.

Friday morning Woody came and finished off his Continuous Arm Chair that he started a few weeks back. He couldn't attend the seventh and final day of the course as he went off to see some bloke called "The Boss" or Bruce Something, who was apparently singing a few tunes in a paddock near Hanging Rock. Woody's chair too, is a credit to him.

Both guys really enjoyed their respective chair making experiences. Both guys I believe will go on to continue making chairs in the future. That has to be the greatest compliment any person who I've taught in my workshop can give me. That they are inspired to continue their own chair making odyssey. It's how 'we' ensure that traditional woodworking is kept alive and thriving long after 'we' have departed.

Cheers Guys.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Off the grid.......for a while.

Life is great in Kyneton, but everyone needs a break. Lisa, Tom and I had not been away together for over 18 months. So Friday we packed the car and got out of town. Joining us were friends Sam and Michaela and their two kids Poppy and Gus.

    McMillans Lookout, overlooking the town of Benambra, with The Brothers mountains in the           

We headed down the Princes Hwy to Bruthen turned up the Omeo Hwy to Omeo then headed to my parents high country farm at Uplands, about 12k's North of Benambra. The farm is about 150 acres on the Morass Creek and was the original location of the Uplands Post Office, which stood on the property until the 2003 bushfires, which razed it to the ground. 

          Uplands Post Office site, just to the left of the Pines in the distance, post 2003 fires.

Before that, the farm which had once been one of the best kept parcels of land in the district had been let go for decades and was in a horrible state, covered in blackberries, thistles and all manner of other noxious weeds. There were parts of the creek bank where you couldn't get to within 10 metres of the water. Now thanks to years of Dad's hard work it has been returned to it's former glory and is in fine shape.

Just as pleasant as the views across the paddocks of lucern and along the creek line are, there is another special quality that the property holds. Lack of phone coverage! Yep, mobiles are pretty much reduced to paper weights and that's a great thing for a day or two. So with the phone off and internet out of action, we settled into more important tasks, like lighting the fire and cleaning the camp oven.

                                                   Kennedy's Hut on the Mitta Mitta

Saturday. After a relaxing light bush walk along the Mitta Mitta River to Kennedy's Hut we slow roasted a piece of pork belly with homegrown tomato and eggplant salad for dinner.

Camp oven on the coals.

                                                    A few well deserved ales later...........

                                                      The view from Hotham Heights 

On Sunday we took the kids to Mount Hotham for lunch and for a play in what was left of an early sprinkling of snow. 

With the requisite snowman constructed then 'decommissioned,' snowballs hurled in all directions and boots wet through, we headed back to the farm, collected firewood for the fire that night and settled in for more good food and company. The kids ate their body weight in roasted marshmallows. Later that night everyone piled into the ute for a quick whip around the fence line on the lookout for wildlife. A dozen good sized eastern grey kangaroos, four wild deer and a hare hopping through the lucern paddock made their collective eyes pop and drew the odd excited squeal.

Monday morning we headed further North along the Corryong Rd to a spot on the Gibbo River where we knew of half a dozen magnificent Chestnut trees. 

These trees would have been planted around gold rush times and just as in years past, they did not disappoint with literally thousands of Chestnuts covering the ground under their huge canopies.

Anyone who has ever tackled a Chestnut pod will know that it is one well protected little fortress. Those spikes are better than needle sharp and I'm still feeling the remnants of them in my fingers as I type. 

But the nuts inside are well worth the fight and after an hour or so we had collected our fill just before the rain sent us back to our cars. The amazing thing was we didn't even get close to collecting the nuts from even one tree!

A late drive home last night and back into the workshop today putting the finishing touches to one of a number of rocking chairs I have on order. It's great to be home and refreshed for another couple of weeks of chair making, courses and.......... roasted Chestnuts.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A great pair.

Last week I had the pleasure of having Geoff and Peter in the workshop making a continuous arm chair each.

I enjoy the watching the week unfold. There's a familiar theme. A few days in the 'saddle' of the shave horse first. While not back breaking work, the first two days are long, especially when using tools which are unfamiliar to most, such as a drawknife. You can sense that in the back of their minds they are wondering if there's going to be enough time to get this chair made. I often get asked, "are we making good progress" or are we up to speed.

But in the days that follow, leg holes are drilled and reamed, the seat carved, legs and stretchers fitted and the crest rail that they carved by hand and steam bent on the second day, comes out of it's form and finds its way on to the arm posts.

Suddenly the chair begins to take shape. The seat with four legs now starts to resemble the chair that captured their attention when they first saw it.

Lastly, with spindles shaved to fine tolerances and 15 hand split wedges at the ready, glue is warmed and the crest rail is glued and wedged into place. A wave of relief washes over them, a smile appears  and finally they get to see the fruits of a roller coaster week of new and interesting techniques that has culminated in a fine Windsor chair.

Peter and Geoff both made a great chair and it was a pleasure to have them in the workshop for the week. Even better to see the satisfaction on their faces as they loaded their chairs and patterns into their cars for the trip home. Well done guys.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

An eventful week

The past three days I've spent up the road at Keith's farm milling an ever increasing pile of logs. It's one of those 'things' that have been on my list of 'things to do' for some time, but ironically, time is the issue.

So when I noticed a small opening in between a couple of Continuous Arm Chair courses I raced down to Dad's farm, collected the sawmill and readied myself to mill as much as I could in four days.

The first couple of days started with a bang. I had the mill set up by late morning and managed to have half a dozen good sized English Oak logs milled by the days end.

The second day started with another English Oak, followed by two of the best Poplar logs I've come across.

Almost dead centre heart and as straight as a gun barrel. I know there are purest furniture makers out there who dismiss poplar as a secondary wood in comparison to even pine, but having used it for over seven years now I can absolutely vouch for its stability, ease of hand planing, sawing, dovetailing and all round usability.

Thirty minutes later the above log had been squared and reduced to a dozen perfect boards.

                                       Straight grained , nice figure and absolutely clear Poplar.

Not every log in the pile was as straight forward as the Poplar. Just last week I was fortunate enough to score an Algerian Oak from Riddells Creek. Not the best saw log by a long stretch, but then how often do you come across such a mature specimen of Algerian Oak? Ummm, not often.

It took a while to get the whole thing squared up and the big branch inclusions made the blades distort a little, but I think the end result was worth it. Some of the best ray fleck I've seen in Oak of any species.

             I ended up with three of these 60mm thick boards with matching ray fleck. Pretty nice.

                                Even when rift sawn the figure in this Algerian Oak is stunning.

But as I've discovered countless times before milling logs, you have to take the good with the bad. The bad came in the form of this Pin Oak which had been growing along side an historic old home in Woodend.

Before I even got it on the mill I dug out this square section tube, chain and roofing nails which had been there for so long that the tree had grown about 60mm over the lot. I should have left it at that, but the thought of some straight Pin Oak boards made me persist.

When you hit a nail with a bandsaw, there is a distinctive 'zip' noise, followed often by the cut quality dropping.

This picture repeated itself about a dozen times. There were more zips than a zipper factory! I lost count of the nails I dug out of the log until in the end I gave up on it. One things for sure, the Pin Oak wasn't suffering from an iron deficiency!

But on the good side again, I finished up with some Elm from the trees that fell down near the Campaspe River. I had to rip the log down the middle just to get it on the mill! Here's a couple of the boards from just one half of the log. Over half a metre wide, 60mm thick and all together stunning!

I've got a full day today in the workshop, preparing for our next chair course which starts on Sunday and a visit from the Furniture History Society members on Saturday. But tomorrow morning two mates, Tim and Bern will be on the doorstep bright and early for another full days milling. We are going to tackle some of the biggest logs I've ever come across. From English Oak to more massive Elms. There's a bit of Chestnut there too and even Holly. I've got a feeling it's going to be a good day!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Rubber bands and carrots

Last week I had the pleasure of having a local in the workshop making a continuous arm chair with me. It was a great week and Woody was a natural with most of the chair specific hand tools. I guess that's what you would expect from someone who is carving an arched back guitar in his spare time. He even took to the carving of the complex curve on the underside of the chair with the drawknife with ease. Nice work mate.
Although my chair classes are anything but rigid in their structure, I do like to ensure that we get the crest rail carved and steam bent by the end of the second day. This gives ample time for it to set in the drying box prior to being drilled and fitted to the chair at the end of the week. I carved one at the same time as I have an order for a continuous arm rocker.

So while our crest rails were steaming away in the kiln we readied our bending forms over a cup of coffee. At the time I thought it would be pertinent to let Woody know that sometimes the crest rails delaminate or worse still, fail completely. Such is the joy of working with the natural product that is timber...... and steaming it like a dim sim!

To ease Woody's mind, I retrieved my crest rail first, wedged it into the form and .........snap. Just like a carrot. I kept bending, to check if it was just a fault in that part of the crest. Snap, snap, snap. Nope, it was the whole thing. Having bent literally dozens and dozens of these things it was just a case of c'est la vie. Woody on the other hand was not looking entirely pleased or confident

A few minutes later we bent Woody's crest. It bent like a rubber band. Not even the slightest delamination and with the exception of a slight compression on the right side, a near perfect bend. Interesting part? Both blanks were from the same board, a 60mm thick, quarter sawn, green, Blackwood blank. Both had absolutely no visible inclusions or defects. Just to check, I shaped and bent another 3. Same deal, two snapped like carrots and the third compressed so badly it was unusable.

So I'm putting this episode down to an exacting diagnosis of 'buggered if I know?'  This Blackwood is good stuff. As you can see above, it splits very well. It's certainly strong enough before steaming. But whatever the reason, it's all good. It's a constant learning curve and I've yet to meet or even hear of anyone who has absolutely mastered the art of steam bending.

However, for the last few days I've been back on the sawmill and milling all sorts of Oak and if anything bends well it's Oak. More on that soon.