Riving, hewing & drawknife at Plymouth CRAFT


Riving, hewing & drawknife class at Plymouth CRAFT is done. Great group of people, I didn’t even need to be there today, except there were some of my tools. Weather & food were excellent too.

thanks again to our hosts, Plymouth Antiquarian Society, at the Harlow House. (Iron work on the sign by our friend Mark Atchison, timber work by ditto Justin Keegan.)


Next woodsy ones are baskets in November and spoons in December. Website is here: http://plymouthcraft.org/?post_type=tribe_events

here’s photos of this weekend:

Our local inspiration was Pret Woodburn’s gate at the Harlow House:

pret's gate

Great clear red oak logs (thanks Michael D) – we had almost no waste at all. Could have used every split, but got picky..


One objective was to get the hang of the riving & steering of a split with the froe & brake.

riving on a fall day 2

The drawknife is a simple tool to learn, but then to get the real technique down takes some practice:


Sometimes there’s people you don’t want to have sharp tools. Pret’s work was well-burnished (it’s a joke – he had just finished his 60-minute shaving horse, and I asked him to show me how it worked, but that wasn’t a drawknife in his hands…)
sometimes we don't let him have sharp tools


Boring the holes to start the mortises.



Thankfully, I can project my voice, because I had to yell across the yard to Matt, “the block plane is not the tool to trim the rails…get a hatchet”

trim w a hatchet not a block plane

One of the many hurdles, test fitted. Laying out the braces.

test fit

The moody-shot, complete with old-timey cooperage.

mood shot

I was all for posing on our hands & knees, but the general consensus was we’d not be able to get up again.

folded in

what does “tradition” mean in Traditional Woodworking?

outdoor classAfter the class at Lie-Nielsen with Jogge Sundqvist, I got an email from my friend Bryan MacIntyre. It was something I knew I wanted to tackle, but it took some time to sift through. Here’s the bulk of it:

“I’d like to start a larger dialogue about tradition…. Essentially Jogge recited his TED Talk, as requested, towards the ends of the Q&A… He talked about the four walls he’s aware of while he’s working: the materials, the tools/tool skills, tradition, and other people. (I’ve tried looking for the YouTube version now and can’t find it again… (PF – yup, it seems to be gone for now. Jogge was trying to see what’s the story)

I have been able to identify with all but one; the wall of tradition. Since we, as modern woodworking Americans, may not have knowledge to create objects such as the wooden spoon, knife, bowl, or distaff handed down from generation… How do we define our tradition? What object do we connect with if we haven’t been around it our entire lives?

So I’m asking how do you define your tradition wall? What do you look at as tradition, while you’re creating your furniture, wooden ware, houses…etc? What object of your creation do you most identify with and why?”

To which I say “well, look – a can of worms! Let’s open it.”

I’d say it’s generally true that modern American (& probably others too) woodworkers are part of what I call a “broken” tradition, in that the continuous link from one craft generation to the next died out. For various reasons, some through a general drift away from agricultural basis to a more urban setting; mechanization of woodworking – which led to a dumbing-down of processes (and a poorer product, when you think furniture), a cultural shift away from a small economy to a larger one, advertising – other reasons too.

But I am not sure that this is restricted to America. In fact, I’m of the opinion that it isn’t by any means restricted there. Starting with Sweden, because this question stemmed from the workshop we just had with Jogge Sundqvist, I look at his father’s work, and think that Wille set out to teach his knife & axe work because in his lifetime (the past 90 years) he saw those agriculturally-based hand-woodworking skills disappearing in Sweden. This trajectory is well-covered in the DVD about Wille’s career called The Spoon, the Bowl & the Knife. 

Wille Sundqvist
Wille Sundqvist

In England,I think about Robin Wood http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/the-craft/ wanting to learn bowl-turning on a pole lathe – and he had to learn it by studying George Lailey’s tools and lathe, and then piecing together parts of the story from various sources and lots of trial & error. George was already dead.

Robin Wood turning a bowl
Robin Wood turning a bowl

In America, my “green woodworking” started with ladderback chairmaking, taught by John (Jennie) Alexander, an urban hobbyist woodworker who set out to find out how “old” chairs were made…JA found few surviving chairmakers to learn from, but pieced together bits of the story here & there. So I think in some cases, the tradition was either broken, or nearly broken, and then revived. The  skills part of the tradition, that is.

Alexander's post-and-rung chair
Alexander’s post-and-rung chair

The tradition of having & using these “folk” forms – hmm. that’s another whole angle, too. When Bryan asks “What object of your creation do you most identify with and why?” for me it’s the 17th century style joinery that’s my specialty. I started studying this oak furniture back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and have continually worked at it. It really spoke to me for several reasons – the simplicity of the mortise & tenon work, the frame & panel – these techniques and forms are timeless really. But also, in a personal way, all the pieces I studied were made within 60 miles of where I have lived all my life.

joined and carved chest, 2010
joined and carved chest, 2010

All of this rumination gets wrapped up in other views, angles and outlooks too. It touches on why I work the way I do, hand-tools, and mostly using wood riven from the log rather than sawn. (I do use sawn wood regularly, but almost always as a supplemental, or secondary wood in furniture). The “why” there is simple. I like it. It’s how I want to spend my day. Working with machinery doesn’t have any appeal to me whatsoever. I watched a TED talk the other day, some guy using terms like “craftsmanship”, “hand-made”, “technology” and all kinds of other buzzwords that left me shaking my head. He & I were from different planets altogether. HIs idea of handmade & mine are quite far apart. Likewise, technology. I understand that languages are fluid things, and words’ meanings change, but when I hear people talk about “technology” today, I think electronics. To me, technology is using tools. Like hammers. I get that this computer I’m writing with is a tool, but calling all these related gadgets technology leaves out the axe, the knife, the plane – hmm.

This weekend Rick McKee & I will help a new group of students learn the age-old technology of riving wood, and shaving it with a drawknife.



shaving horse work

It’s one of our offerings with the group Plymouth CRAFT, http://plymouthcraft.org/ a small cadre of folks dedicated to teaching various skills at making things in many crafts. Our woodsy bits are part of what Jarrod Stone-Dahl calls the Wood Culture Renaissance. I like Jarrod’s philosophy. http://woodspirithandcraft.com/  It reminds me of a short essay written back in 1960, by one of my inspirations in hand-tool woodworking, Daniel O’Hagan. I met Daniel in the mid-1980s and he is directly responsible for me getting rid of my “power” (i.e. electric) tools.  

Back in 1960, Daniel wrote: “Slowly, imperceptibly, the handcraft revolution is coming. More and more people will find the inexpressible joy in making things from start to finish with simple tools, simple materials, and being content to live simply while doing it.”


Is a third of a hurdle a thirdle?

I decided I’d better work at making a hurdle, to practice up for this weekend’s class with Plymouth CRAFT http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=riving-now-two-days

After splitting & riving the stock, there’s drawknife work at a shaving horse.


Then I laid out where I wanted mortises, how many, etc. and bored holes to start ’em.


And chopped between these holes with a chisel to make the rest of the mortise.


finished mortise

Next I’ll shave a slew of horizontal rails, and then fit braces and pin the whole thing together. I quit there, to leave some for show & tell with the students.


Then, we’ll see how Rick McKee makes them, and we’ll confound the students as much as we can. Still room if you have nothing on this weekend, and are eager to learn riving, drawknife work, and more.


connections made at Dickinsons Reach

You know you’re getting close…


When you see this little yurt. After Jogge’s class, a small group of friends made a special trip out to Bill Coperthwaite’s place called Dickinsons Reach in Maine. If you aren’t familiar with Bill’s work, his book A Handmade Life is one of my favorite pieces of inspiration. But Bill was more complicated than a book of course.

It’s a nice long walk through the woods to his place, and once you’re there, you have a lot to see.

library yurt



In this case, the connections were a big part of what interested me. It was Bill who connected Jogge’s father, Wille Sundqvist, with Drew and Louise Langsner back in the mid-1970s. That eventually gave the Langsners the idea of starting a series of workshops in woodworking that continue to this day as Country Workshops. www.countryworkshops.org

Our semi-host was Peter Lamb who worked closely with Bill for many years, so knew the ins & outs of the place far better than any of the rest of us. I had visited a few times, Drew had been there once, over 35 years ago.

We poked around a bit, Jogge & Louise fixed an excellent supper, and the next day we explored around, talked of crafts, Bill, the various connections and ideas that were floating around. It was quite a time. some photos:

opening up for dinner

This one I stole from Jogge (sorry…) – a pattern Bill made of one of Wille’s spoons. It’s not really the best way to make a spoon, but Bill was trying to record some of the features…

I went out & walked for 2 hours the next morning.

board walk


morning at the mill pond

Showed Jogge this great birch bark bucket…lashed in bark too.

jogge w russian birch work

russian birch work3

Little things like this carved bird really caught my eye. Simple and beautiful.

carved bird

I saw lots of birds outside, but only photographed these two in the main yurt. This bowl is from Siberia.

bowl siberia 3

This shave is for hollowing bowls. Jogge thought it was Swedish.

bowl shave swedish

I know these knives were some of Bill’s favorite forms. Not sure if these are from his Alaska travels or not…

crook'd knives

Masashi Kutsuwa, Follansbee, Drew Langsner, Jogge Sundqvist, Peter Lamb. Louise was out looking for somewhere to swim.

five of us

a previous post about Bill: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/thanks-bill/

Tim Manney’s Instagram feed had some good photos he shot out there recently. https://instagram.com/tim.manney/

Sloyd w Jogge at Lie-Nielsen

Last weekend was the class Jogge Sundqvist taught at Lie-Nielsen. I managed to stick my nose into it, but did almost no woodwork. Instead, I listened carefully, and tried to get around and see all the students as they worked. I failed in that regard, but there were too many interesting people there!

As always, it was great being there for Jogge’s class. His techniques and skills are extraordinary, but so is his outlook on craft and all its significance. I wish this class had been longer, but I still wouldn’t have seen it all. The class wasn’t about making a spoon, or this or that – but about techniques and the whole outlook Jogge uses in his sloyd work. Reading the trees, and seeing what’s inside them…that sort of thing.

Here. you see what a dull teacher he is, as Geoff Chapman busts open a birch section.

dull jogge

We had great weather, so got to have much of our work outside behind the toolworks. Roy Underhill had sharpened this saw for the LN Open House, so we put it to good use.

i'll be your crosscut saw

Really, Jogge is great & all that – but Kenneth, get up off your knees. It’s not like that!

kenneth off your knees

The class made butter spreaders…I forget whose these are. They aren’t mine, that’s for sure. I started two and am not even sure where they are at this point. They’re great for practicing knife techniques.

some butter spreaders

The other “project”was a decorative distaff, one of the fittings for a linen wheel. Jogge showed us some historical examples that displayed a great array of decoration. To me, they looked like turned things made square…here, Masashi, Kenneth & Eric are looking one over & discussing its features.

masashi kenneth eric w geoff in back

When lining up an auger bit for boring, Jogge suggests getting a photographer to help you sight the angles…(I wasn’t the only one – there were about 4 of us at the same angle)


line up the brace & bit

On the 2nd day of class, Drew & Louise Langsner showed up, having come up to Maine ahead of Drew’s class there the following weekend..here they are meeting Dave Fisher.

dave fisher w langsners_edited-1

Dave and Eric Goodson both wrote about the class also –







two white oak baskets

Look what fell in my lap – a great white oak basket, from Kim L, via Martha. thanks to both.

basket from kim side

It’s a large, heavy-duty basket. All white oak. Some things about it remind me of the Taghkanic baskets from eastern New York. Very thick rims, large stout weavers and uprights. The bottom seems different from what I know about those baskets, but my knowledge is limited to the book Legend of the Bushwhacker Basket by Martha Wetherbee and Nathan Taylor. It’s about a foot high to the rim, and about 17″ in diameter. Here’s some views:

basket from kim top

basket from kim

The double-woven bottom is reinforced with added splints that are then slipped into the weaving on the sides of the basket. That might be why this basket is still around. Very tough.

basket from kim bottom

While we were out at Bill Coperthwaite’s place, I noticed a nice white oak basket there too. I got to look at this one with Louise Langsner, who made a slew of white oak baskets over the years, before switching to willow…this one seems to have had a lid that would have fit inside the small rim woven above the actual rim. It’s hard to see, but every upright has been split so the lashing can be very closely spaced.

white oak basket top

Here you see the bottom is filled in with extra splints. Makes me think sewing basket, or something like that. When a basket’s bottom is filled in like that, little things don’t get lost out the spaces in between the weaving.

white oak basket bottom

One of our stops on the mini-tour was Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine. We saw some Shaker ash baskets there, and a nice large round white oak one too, but no photography allowed. Drat.

Last Maine trip for 2015

mill pond

I’m just back from two-plus weeks in Maine. Jogge Sundqvist came over from Sweden to teach a 2-day class in the techniques of sloyd; working riven green wood with axe and knife. It’s always greatly inspiring to work alongside Jogge.

outdoor class

I sat on the other side of the monitors while Lie-Nielsen shot a video the week before the class. Then after the class several of us, including Drew and Louise Langsner, took off on a mini-tour of coastal Maine, making several stops including a visit to Dickinsons Reach, the site of Bill Coperthwaite’s home for many decades. Here’s old friends and new: Drew Langsner, Peter Lamb, Louise Langsner, Jogge Sundqvist, Masashi Kutsawa. 

at bill's

It’s nearly 2 years now since Bill’s death, but as a small group of us explored his homesite, his impact was tangible. Jogge found tools and gifts from his father, Wille to Bill, and we spoke at length about the 1976 trip that landed Wille at the Langsner’s home in western North Carolina. Thus began Country Workshops, the school the Langsners have run since about 1977, which is where I met John (Jennie) Alexander in 1980 and Jogge in 1988.

Wille's spoon crook
Thanks to the staff at Lie-Nielsen, all the great students who came from near & far, and our hosts on the tour. More to come. Lots to think about. I have to sort out my desk, pay some bills and tend to some household stuff, then it’s back to woodworking. I’m so full of ideas, I don’t know where to begin.