Took the kids to school the other day & saw this Red-shouldered hawk.

Red-shouldered hawk

front view Red-shouldered hawk



My day job is a pretty busy place these days, Thanksgiving is sort of a big deal there. (for overseas readers, it’s a long story, but it amounts to 4.000 visitors per day Thursday – Saturday this week…)  So no real action here.

TOOL SALE:. For tool customers, I will pack & ship your tools after the weekend. Then I think I’ll let the tools slide for the month of December. Everyone is crazy enough in December and I don’t feel like adding to  any extra craziness. I usually spend as much of December as I can walking in the woods. And cleaning the shop.

SPOONS – I will have a few spoons done in the next couple of weeks, just because I had been planning it, and some have asked about them as gifts. So a small batch coming up in about 2 weeks.

WORKSHOPS/TEACHING – I did a post about my 2013 schedule, and I will make it a static page on the blog next week so folks can find it. Meantime, the link is here:

And with winter coming on, more posts here about work in the shop.

I have a funny job. 8 months out of the year, I answer questions as I work in the shop. You tend to hear some of them over & over again. And again. I’m going to answer some of them here from time to time. Here’s the first one. 

How did I get started in this kind of woodworking, hand tools, green wood?

It’s not a simple answer like “I served an apprenticeship” or anything along those lines. When I was younger, I inherited from my father a tablesaw, drill press, router, jointer, lathe, etc. – all electric. All 1950s & early ‘60s vintage. I tried to learn something of how to use them. Fumbled around a bit, until I saw a 1978 issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. In it were two articles that somehow struck me just right. One was an excerpt from Make a Chair from a Tree, by (then) John Alexander. The other was an article by Drew Langsner about cleaving wood from a log. I ordered Alexander’s book and tracked down a copy of Drew’s then-new book Country Woodcraft (Rodale Press, 1978)

Country Woodcraft (1978)

That was the beginning of my real woodworking education. Two years later, I went down to Marshall, N.C. for my first-ever visit to Country Workshops, the school run by Drew and his wife Louise. I was not a stellar student that year by any stretch of the imagination. The wood was not the only “green” thing around, let’s leave it at that.

Readers of this blog know the relationship that eventually came about between Alexander & I – its importance I have already written about. But the same is true of Drew’s impact on my career. I see him as the unsung hero of green woodworking…for over 30 years he’s been teaching class after class and studying & exploring numerous aspects of woodcraft.

Drew Langsner teaching riving

I went back to Drew & Louise’s place many times between about 1985 and and 1994. My first class there was in a barn shared with the animals. I seem to remember Alexander standing on a hay bale to write on a blackboard. Over the years the facility grew and improved through a strong commitment on the Langsners’ part.

Drew’s Country Woodcraft is a neat book, I dug out my copy last week to look it over. Many things in there I never made; I have no use thus far for a Spike-tooth A-harrow, nor a drag. But this might be the first place I saw a spring pole lathe…and I certainly first saw spoon carving in this book.

Wille Sundqvist hewing a bowl at Country Workshops

The Logbuilder’s Handbook chronicles how they built their log house. I have the book, read it cover-to-cover, but never did any hewing of timbers. I aim to tackle some hewing this winter.

A Logbuilder’s Handbook

After my first trip in 1980, I shook a few demons for a couple of years before I returned in 1985 to try my hand at timber framing in oak. There I met Daniel O’Hagan from Pennsylvania, who became a great influence on me as well. From then on, I remember waiting each winter for the Country Workshops newsletter/catalog to come in the mail , so I could see what classes were being offered & start making plans for the summer’s trip to N.C.

log building at Country Workshops

I went again & again. Timber framing a few times, Windsor chairs with Curtis Buchanan, basketry, spoon carving with both Jogge & Wille Sundqvist, coopering with Drew..

coopering students, maybe 1989 or so


woodenware, early 1990s

For a while I tried each class they offered just about. Drew went on to write many books and articles, – his Green Woodworking is a great book and the Chairmaker’s Workshop is a very detailed exploration into how Drew makes several styles of chairs that have been the focal point of Country Workshops, starting with Alexander’s first class there in 1979.

I spent the summer of 1988 living and working with Drew & Louise. What an experience. The years kept going by. Making great quality tools available became another focus for Drew and Country Workshops, as they started to import blacksmith-made hatchets, gouges, etc. Similarly, there was a series of woodcraft videos, one on spoons & bowls by Jogge Sundqvist, then Drew’s first woodworking teacher Ruedi Kohler, the Swiss cooper. They did another excellent one about Bengt Lidstrom making hewn bowls in Sweden. All well worth having.

By 1994, I got a job. That was great in some ways, my museum work has been another very exciting chapter in my work, but it also changed my travel inclinations for about 10 years. In that time, my travels were about research, studying oak furniture, lecturing, etc. So no time really for woodworking classes. I kept in touch with Drew & Louise through the mail, then email…always with an eye on what was happening down there.

I finally made it back there when the twins were just toddlers, and have been several times in the past 6 years or so.

the new barn

A couple of years ago, I was a student in Jogge Sundqvist’s class, and wrote about that here:


It’s great to be back, and I am really looking forward to August 2013 when I will again teach how to rive, plane and carve oak to make a 17th-century box. If you have been to Langsner’s you don’t need me to tell you about it, if you haven’t – here’s your chance. Don’t miss out. Take my class, take a chairmaking class, spoons & bowls, or any of the others. Just get there. Here’s the website sign up for the newsletter, sign up for their catalog/class listings. Get on the mailing list so it comes to your house, just like the old days.

Drew Langsner

Here’s Drew’s website, you can see the sort of wooden ware he’s interested in making lately. To me, it harks back to his days as a sculpture/art student. And while you’re at it, here once again is the link to Louise’s blog about her cooking & gardening. I know I point to this stuff a lot, but we have some new readers here. So bear with me.

I really can’t state strongly enough just how important Drew’s work has been to mine. Getting to know Drew and Louise has been one of the best parts of my adult life. I can say without reservation, without them, I would not be where I am today. No bones about it. They literally made me feel a part of their family, and have been so generous over the years. See you in N.C.

and miles. Over 10,000 of them.

Cooper’s hawk

I guess if you’re not early, you’re late. So the schedule for workshops in 2013 is cooking all over the world right now…

I have a few dates I can post right now, others are being finalized & I”ll put them up here soon. I have to strike some sort of balance if I want to stay married (yes) and employed (mostly), so I have a few full weeks of classes, and a few weekend sessions. I hope to add some as I can…

First is a semi-woodsy bit. I am one of a host of speakers at the Furniture Forum at Winterthur in early March 2013. My talks are easy, I get a workbench and tools, so I just do my usual thing. Only in somewhat nicer clothing, probably. I am also listed as doing some “workshops” but Winterthur means something different from what I think a workshop is…so I look at these as more like a demonstration – like my day job. Here’s the whole brochure. FF Brochure 2013_Web (2)


Now – do you want to make a joined stool?

joined stool, chamfered not turned

Want to make a joined stool way out west?  I have been to the west before, having lectured and done research in Hartford, CT. But this is even further west than that…April 22-26 at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.

Here they are riving some stock, but wait, what woods do they use there? Not oak?? There’s woods other than oak?

Port Townsend WA

Yup, it’s experimentation time. But it should be fun. There’s a weekend class following it in just the carving patterns. I am really looking forward to these workshops, I have never been to that part of the country. The carving class info is not up yet, (I was late getting stuff to Tim, sorry Tim.)


June 7-13. I don’t drink beer. I don’t eat meat. And I don’t speak German. But still, because of Thomas Lie-Nielsen and Chris Schwarz, the folks at Dictum in Germany want me to come teach a class how to make the carved boxes I do. Me? Teach carving in Bavaria? Has the world gone nuts? We’ll see in June. Info is not up yet…

how could I say no


July 15-19 I’ll do the joined stool in honest-to-goodness oak at the Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro. Roy hasn’t got the schedule together yet. But he will. It will be a gas.

many shavings


Then in August (12-16), I’ll be back in North Carolina at my long-time favorite woodworking school – Country Workshops. We’ll make the carved boxes -

“been there so long he’s got to callin’ it home” is how I feel about this place.

up towards the workshop

and if enough of us show up, I bet Louise will make pizza that Drew will fire in their outdoor oven. Don’t miss it. Have a look:

pizza at Country Workshops

Here’s Louise’s blog, in case you’ve missed it when I posted before


This coming Friday I’ll be at the Lie-Nielsen Event at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, Bob Van Dyke’s place in Manchester, CT. While I am there, Bob & I will figure out a winter date for a weekend class in carving. So that will actually be first of the season for me…the lineup this weekend is really something. Come by if you are around the area.


Enough. It’s not like I’m Chris Schwarz or something.




various spoons

I’m still carving spoons when I have time. I have a batch of about another dozen coming up soon for those still interested…

but a lot of folks have asked about tools and materials for learning to carve their own spoons. So here goes. First off, start with Drew Langsner’s site . That’s where I learned most all I know about carving spoons. Drew sells the excellent DVD by Jogge Sundqvist “Carving Swedish Woodenware” as well as many tools for this work -

hook knives

I got these two hook knives from Drew – the one in the foreground is by Hans Karlsson, that in the background is by Svante Djarv. I do 90% of my hollowing with these, some large spoons I start hollowing with a curved bent gouge and mallet.

I have many straight knives, this one is my everyday knife, with a handle I made long ago, probably wouldn’t make it so bulky these days…but by now I am used to it. It’s a Frost blade, fitted to a maple handle. The handle is about 3 1/2″ long, by 5/8″ wide. But that’s after 20 years of use.

carving knife

more straight knives

Three more straight knives. The large one at left is by Svante Djarv. I just got it this spring from Drew. It’s big. 4″ long, by 3/4″ wide. Great knife. They sell smaller ones also…

The small middle knife here is by Del Stubbs It’s a fabulous knife. I use if for finishing cuts, once the green wood has been roughed into shape. As it dries the wood cuts more cleanly. Del’s site has lots of spoon-carving information & inspiration.  The top knife here is another old Frost blade, now worn down to a nice small size for detail carving. It’s my first carving knife, so it stays in the game.


detail knives

For the chip carving that I put on the spoon handles, I use the one in the right above made by Ron Hock   it’s called the “Chip Carver #CKC100 1″ on his site. The other I have just been getting used to is another tool from Svante Djarv that I got from Country Workshops.

While you’re at Country Workshops’ site, sign up for their free newsletter. This recent issue has an article about Drew & Louise’s trip to Sweden, where among other things, they visited  Wille Sundqvist – who started all this spoon carving at Drew’s back in 1978.

This weekend, if you’re home reading this, that means that you & I are both missing a spoon extravaganza in England – Robin Wood is part of this spoon scene that descended from Wille -here is his site, showing his turned bowls, but spoon carving is a big part of his work too.

This weekend he & some friends are having a gathering of spoon carvers = read about it here. I wish I could have made it…

I think that about covers it. I’m sure there’s lots more; but this ought to get you started.

Whew. I’m just back from a week of riving, hewing, planing & carving as seven students & I made oak boxes from a log at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, ME. Also one wicked croquet game, followed by an incredible juggling demo. It was a good week. 


The students quickly learned the benefits of hewing, mostly once they realized that it meant less planing.

Who knew new hew

Which brings us again to hatchets.

Pretty much the number one question I get is where can I get a hatchet like the one in the book Make a Joint Stool from a Tree. 

my everyday hewing hatchet

Well….I don’t know. So a couple weeks ago, Chris Schwarz was visiting my shop & we shot a short piece about how you can use several different configurations of hatchet to remove excess stock. Here’s Chris’ video



This prompted some discussion in the Lost Art Press blog…some offering that the Gransfors Bruks company makes a single-bevel hatchet, which they call the Swedish Carving Axe. BUT my memory of that hatchet is that it’s not really a single-bevel hatchet. It’s designed in part by Wille Sundqvist, a great inspiration to many of us; but Wille doesn’t make flat stuff like what I use in joinery. My suspicion was confirmed, it is a double-bevel hatchet with bevels of different lengths. Hhere is the description from GB (thanks to Joe Olivas for chasing this down & sending it to me)

“Gränsfors Large Swedish Carving Axe
The Gränsfors Large Swedish Carving Axe is used for woodworking and shaping wood. The axe has been developed in collaboration with master craftsmen Wille Sundqvist and Onni Linnanheimo, with inspiration from old designs. The Large Swedish Carving Axe has a relatively long, curved cutting edge which is double-sided as standard. The axe is also available as a special order with the edge ground specifically for right-handed or left-handed carving. The right-handed Swedish Carving Axe has a broader, straight rather than convex, bevel face on the left side of the edge, if the axe is held in the right hand, and a shorter, straight bevel face on the right side of the edge. The left-handed Swedish Carving Axe is the same but in reverse. The broader, straighter face, on the side nearer the wood, provides excellent support when carving. The handle has an uneven surface, giving good friction for a firm grip.”

I like their tools, but it’s not a single-bevel hatchet. Further, Drew Langsner points out on the Country Workshops page that the GB carving axe needs some work on the bevels for accurate hewing. This fits with the GB description above in which they talk of special orders with one long bevel and one short bevel, both of which are straight, not convex.

(Drew’s choice of words is “flat” not straight. It took me a minute to know what GB was talking about.)

The point of the video Chris & I shot was to offer that you don’t absolutely have to have a single-bevel hatchet to prep stock for joinery. It makes things easier, but you can do it with a double-bevel hatchet too.

I have several hatchets. The large, German ones I like best for joinery stuff, i.e. making flat boards.


The small double-bevel ones I mostly use in spoon carving, but they can serve to hew flat faces too.

it can be done

The large Wetterlings I got from Lie-Nielsen is also for hewing, but when I have a lot of stock to remove. (I don’t find it on their website, but it’s in their showroom…write to ask about it )

Wetterlings from Lie-Nielsen



If you have only one hatchet it might be best to get a medium-sized double-bevel hatchet like the Hans Karlsson one Country Workshops now carries. I use mine all the time…Then keep looking for a single-bevel one.


Some are interested in the small Stanley hatchets that Jennie Alexander modified by grinding the “back” face down to a single-bevel. Maybe we’ll hear from JA on how that was done…here’s the tool:

JA modified hatchet

JA modified hatchet


I know there’s a single-bevel hatchet made by Ox-head. I have never used it, but saw it one time & it seemed a bit off to me. It looked like it had a secondary bevel on the flat side, but not big enough to actually be a bevel, just large enough to keep it from working like a single-bevel hatchet. Does anyone use one of these? I’d like to hear from you if you do. Send me one to try & I’ll send it back to you…

a recent post about the hewing hatchets is here:

I got another note from Drew Langsner this morning; here it is.

riving shingles in Japan

Hi Peter,
Here’s more on riving. This photo is of a gentleman who demonstrates riving shingles at Hida Folk Museum, near Takayama City in the Japan Alps. You can easily see that he’s been doing this for hundreds of years. He is riving chestnut.
  It’s not shown in this photo but he will often rive a billet into thirds. Here’s the technique. He starts a split 1/3 of the way across the width. Shortly after the froe enters the billet he removes the froe. He then drives it half way in the remaining two-thirds of the billet. Immediately the froe is removed, replaced into the first opening, and driven down some. Then removed and replaced back into the second split. This continues until one of the side boards pops off. Then he finishes riving the other piece into halves. Very neat trick. I think the chestnut makes this somewhat easier than other woods because it is more bendy and therefore doesn’t pop apart as fast as a wood like red oak.
  Also note his riving brake. I’ve been riving wood for shingles, chairs, fencing for 40 years now but had never seen anything like this. The brake not only holds the wood in place. It also puts pressure (tension) on the outer side of the curve and this causes the fibers along the curve to come apart as the split opens up. 
One other trick. The master warms the wood over a small fire before riving. In winter this defrosts it. But I think that all year around it makes the wood a bit more bendy.
The froe is almost identical to the ones we use. 
(Photo by Drew Langsner from the 2010 Country Workshops Japan Craft Tour)
Thanks, Drew. We’ll see more about the CW froe soon.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. Some time ago, I wrote a post for Lost Art Press about some riving technique that we described in the joint stool book, but we only illustrated it with a diagram from Eleanor Underhill. After the book was out, I had some oak I was splitting for joined chests, and used the technique. Got a photo – so that is now captured in Lost Art Press’ archive…here’s the link:

The kicker is that in working the book, Jennie Alexander & I settled long ago on various snippets of phrasing that we used in workshops & our own communication. One of these is “Always split in half.” It’s almost a maxim for riving. The gist of it is that if you split off-center, then the weaker/thinner section will bend, and the split will do what we call “run out.”

Then Drew sent me a note about that post & that maxim. For those of you who don’t know him, Drew Langsner is, to my mind, the unsung hero of green woodworking. Since 1978 Drew has run Country Workshops, one of the most mis-named woodworking school going.

There, students have learned ladderback chairmaking, Windsor chairmaking, timber framing, coopering, bowl & spoon carving, Japanese woodworking, basketry, log-house building and other topics I have forgotten. Through it all, Drew has been refining & exploring his ideas and thoughts about how simple tools and wood interact. ( I have no decent photos of Drew – he takes most of them down there, so he isn’t often in them…)

Here’s what he said about my riving post -

“…But I don’t think it’s a rule to always split in half; there’s various of times when other patterns make more sense…grid splitting for turnings, off center splitting for trimming excess, doing what you’re doing in the photo, going slightly off radial to show off the rays. On really nice oak I’m wondering if you can make a riving that’s more like a board that was sawed just away from the pith. I realize it won’t have the perfect growth ring pattern. But if you found it in a pile of lumber I almost bet you would use it. If there’s a rule it should be to use your brain and your experience…I think.”

So there, use your brain & experience. I agree with Drew. I have seen him use some finagling so he could manage to squeeze out “extra” pieces from an oak, not wanting to waste the tree. His experiences with riving are vast. If you don’t already get the Country Workshops e-newsletter, sign up for it. There’s often great stuff there. see them here:

Go take a class there. Louise’s cooking is worth it alone, but the woodworking is great too.

These days, Drew’s woodenware seems to be reaching back to his art background, sort of functional sculpture. If it weren’t for Drew, I’d be somebody else. That’s all there is to it. And I wouldn’t know who Thelonious Monk was…

If you have read my blog for a while, then you have heard me go on about Country Workshops, the school in western North Carolina for woodworking classes. I have been a student there since 1980, and sometimes an instructor these days.

up towards the workshop

I can’t say enough good things about the place, and its keepers, Drew & Louise Langsner.  If you are not familiar with CW, then try the website to learn more about it

hatchet & plane work

In their newsletter today was an item that just about knocked me out of my chair – Louise has started a blog about her cooking. I have often joked that the woodworking is just what we do there to kill time between meals. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean…


So if you like good food, and/or cooking take a moment to catch up on what Louise is up to… here with her friend & swimming companion, Smoky Joe.

Nice goin’ Louise.

What are you doing this summer? Me, I’m driving a bunch, and flying some…

Country Workshops

 I have two classes in North Carolina this year, the first at Country Workshops from June 20-24th. I’ll be returning there to teach making a carved box again. Last I knew there were still maybe 2 spaces left in this class. I’m very partial to Country Workshops; it’s where I learned much of the woodworking that I know. It’s always a great experience there…Other classes there this summer include two courses in chairmaking, coopering, carved bowls & spoons and Carl Swensson’s Japanese Woodworking… I’ve ranted & raved before about what Drew & Louise Langsner do there, now for over 30 years. Have a look here:

hatchet & plane work

Then I’ll scoot home, work a bit, then go back down south in July for a class at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC. This time it’s a joined stool. Lots of mortise-and-tenon work, after we split & plane the stock from a red oak log. It’s my first time at Roy’s new school & I am really looking forward to it. He told me today there’s 3 spaces left, so if you’ve been thinking about it, get crackin’.

joined stool

There’s other demo/lecture type things this year, but these are the only hands-on classes that I’ll be doing in 2011. I just wanted to let folks know that there’s only a few slots left at this point – so if you’re thinking about it…think no more, sign up!

Today was the day for carving the high chair’s back panel. I decided on a design that I know well, removing one variable in the project. I didn’t want to learn a new design while carving a new wood too.

 The panel is pretty small, about 9” wide by 10” high; so I had to adapt the design to fit the space. To get to that point, I decided to draw it in chalk; ordinarily I would just scribe a centerline on the panel and start carving…too chicken with the walnut. I have only a little extra wood so wanted to get it right the first time.

chalk outline & V-tool work begun

The pattern I chose is from the Devon, England group of joinery, also seen in Ipswich Massachusetts, c. 1660s-1700. I have gone over carving this stuff a number of times here on the blog and in print for Popular Woodworking Magazine (June 2009). One thing about this design is there is very little background to remove. Lots of detail, but lots of leeway too…here it is in oak.

in oak


All I had to do was translate oak-ish techniques so they would succeed in walnut. By now I had enough of an idea how to get that done. The V-tool work proceeded as usual. Maybe a little less oomph with the mallet, but otherwise just cut most of the outlines with the V-tool.

I used hand pressure to incise some of the detail shapes, where in oak I would just strike them once with emphasis to cut the shape. To achieve this, the movement comes from the lower body, rising up on my feet, & coming down with my weight.

hand pressure

Then I snuck up on them removing wood just outside where I relieved things with either the V-tool or hand-pressure & gouges.

removing background

Once I had carefully cut down all the limits of the background, then I took out the waste areas. I did all this work with hand pressure, where I would mostly do it with the mallet in oak. Some of this stuff is covered in detail in the DVD I did last fall with Lie-Nielsen; for instance, the position of my hands on the tools, and bracing the forearms against the torso for stability. Beginners often miss the idea of how to hold the tool, and where the cuts come from in your body…I learned a lot of that stuff when I was a repeat student at Country Workshops many years ago. It has stayed with me throughout my woodworking career, and that’s why I stress it in any instruction I do.

Then some shaping, beveling etc to finish out the pattern.

shaping with bevel up

Some punchwork on the background and accents on the panel itself completed the carving. Then it was time to cut the panel, and bevel its back edges to fit the grooves in the frame. I would use a hatchet on oak for the gross removal of stock, but again, chickened out in walnut. It does plane quite nicely, so this was easy work. I just held the panel in a wooden bench hook to plane the bevels.

bevelling back of panel

Then test-fit. Next time some arms, finials, and seat. And carve the faces of the stiles. And make the rear stretcher. Oh, I thought I was almost done.

test fit



starting to look like something

For more on this type of carving, I’ll be out & about a few times teaching carving & demonstrating in 2011.  Some details are already available, others to come. I’ll do a carved box workshop at Country Workshops in June

I’ll also be at the Northeastern Woodworkers Association Showcase in Saratoga Springs this March 26 & 27.

In October I’ll be at Woodworking in America, not sure they have their details up yet….

Roy Underhill’s place in July, for making  a joined stool.

I hope to do some Lie-Nielsen events, just haven’t figured out where/when yet. The video is previewed here

and their site is here


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