a note from Drew

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, http://www.lostartpress.com/Make_a_Joint_Stool_from_a_Tree_p/bk-majsfat.htm 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. www.countryworkshops.org

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: http://countryworkshops.org/newsletter/newsletter/newsletter.html

Go take a class there. Louise’s cooking is worth it alone, but the woodworking is great too. http://louiselangsner.wordpress.com/

These days, Drew’s woodenware seems to be reaching back to his art background, sort of functional sculpture. http://www.drewlangsner.com/. 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…

Final report on Maine, May 2012

well, my head is spinning. I got back from my Maine trip a few days ago…so still unpacking, sorting and trying to get back in the swing of things at home & at the shop. Here’s a recent panel carving:

But I’m distracted in several different directions. One is Doug Stowe’s long run of excellent posts about education. This is a pertinent subject, my kids are heading for first grade next fall…and we need to figure out how we want that to play out. Anyone got a winning lottery ticket to spare? Doug’s stuff is really thought-provoking – here’s one from today: http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com/2012/05/what-american-schools-should-look-like.html

Last week he beat me to the punch reading the NY Times, Doug posted a link to this article that I had flagged: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/opinion/sunday/lets-be-less-productive.html?_r=2

As I said earlier, the Maine trip was great – I always have an excellent time at Lie-Nielsen, this sign is something I did for the classroom there:

and got lots of birding in,

waxwing in apple tree



common yellowthroat

and more waxwings

saw old friends, etc….

but the certain highlight of the whole trip was two hours I got to spend with Bill Coperthwaite.

Bill Coperthwaite

Showing the crooked knife:

I have mentioned here before, but now will again, that Bill’s book A Handmade Life is one of my absolute favorite books. Period. I keep one at home & one in the shop. I don’t know of a book I have read more.

I had visited Bill’s house in 2004, but he was on his way out of town that day. Here’s some photos from that trip:

a detail:

So last week, I planned ahead & got to visit a bit before I hit the road back to Massachusetts. Bill & I have a lot of mutual friends, some of whom were my major wood-working influences. We talked of knives, axes, puzzles, friends, Sweden, England, the lack of corners in his house, and on & on. I can’t wait to get back to spend some time making shavings with him…it was so inspiring.

More photos from 2004:

one more – these were in October that year, but May was equally beautiful:

here’s links to read more about Bill and the Yurt Foundation



such a long, long time to be gone…and a short time to be there.

I’m back from a great trip to Maine.

Rockport, ME


Then, because there’s nothing like raking light…I kayak-ed into an Edward Hopper painting – (thanks, Ted D.)

lighthouse trip


here’s my best shot of the week:

best of about 700 shots


Here’s a link to some shots from the Lie-Nielsen workshop. As always, folks there were great.   http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150825497703016.396964.100708343015&type=3


more stuff from Maine, and more woodworking to come. Home now for 5 or 6 weeks. whew.





joined chest work

I have not had much action here on the blog in recent weeks – but I have been woodworking. Just haven’t got photos shot, and most of my posts stem from photos. Slowly I’ll get back in the swing of things; but it is May, that means birding gets much attention…

I have been carving a bunch of oak for some joined chests I am building – here’s a detail of the outline for one panel.


carving underway

This chest is pretty small – about 40″ wide across the front. Here’s the frame, test-fitted, with one panel to go.

frame test fitted

This chest has been here in process – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/scratch-stock-moldings-2/

At the same time I am making an all-carved chest; here is its front frame cut & fitted, with a side frame begun –

carved chest

This chest has also made an earlier appearance:



See – that’s the trick about the blog. I tell the whole story eventually, but not in sequence. I’ll save doing it in order for a book…

I’ve been reading some blogs lately too – Rick McKee keeps making the carpenters’ blog from Plimoth better & better http://blogs.plimoth.org/rivenword/

and I don’t miss a post from Louise either http://louiselangsner.wordpress.com/

Education is a big issue in our house these days too – so I try to keep up with Doug Stowe – but he writes a lot, and it’s all  very good stuff. http://wisdomofhands.blogspot.com/

this past winter, Doug included a great clip of a lecture by Roy Underhill – pardon me for swiping it – but here goes. It’s long, 18 minutes, but you have 18 minutes. watch it. Roy is teaching many disciplines in this clip – some you don’t even notice.

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits

This tool chest business is pretty much making me unbearable at home. Thanks, Chris….just what I needed.

tool chest finished I guess


I spend my days fooling around in the workshop, essentially playing. My wife is home, chasing the two six-year olds around; trying to keep the hearth & home intact. And I come in, telling the kids to get their crayons organized, “you should put them back in the box when you’re done…” “then you’ll have more room..” so on.

Then I turn on the kitchen – “these measuring cups should be sorted & organized…” or “how can you find anything in here?”  “Why do you keep this in here???”

a big hit.  Right.

Mark Twain said “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits”

carving tools in trays within trays

I made removable trays for my carving tools, so I can bring the small trays to the workbench. they sit in the sliding trays inside the chest, then can easily come out to carve with.  It’s taking some getting used to, but it seems like it might be a smooth move…

removable trays

at the bench:

tray at the workbench

In theory, I can then shift different tools into the sliding trays if & when I need to work from a different set of tools…but I don’t see me w/o carving tools as my primary gig.

Here’s a few carvings I worked on today.

today's carvings


One is a box front.

box front

and some stiles for a joined chest.

detail stile's carving

The other day, I did the center panel for this joined chest I have underway.

chest front detail

If you want to tackle some of these carvings, get up to Lie-Nielsen later this month; the weekend of May 19/20 I’ll be teaching a class in carving a number of this sort of design… here’s the link. http://www.lie-nielsen.com/?pg=35  _ 
there’ll be good birds in Maine by then…but I promise to make it to the shop on time… If you can’t make it, the DVDs cover similar material http://www.lie-nielsen.com/catalog.php?grp=1320

While waiting for the warblers to get up here to New England, I shot a couple of swallows the other day – 
a tree swallow

tree swallow

 and a barn swallow

these guys rarely sit still, so I was lucky to find them.