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…


3 thoughts on “a note from Drew

  1. These rules are very important when starting out your craft. They act as important guides to help us on our way. But as with all rules sometimes they need to be broken, and sometimes they do not really fit the task in hand. After 20 years of hitting wood and often after mistakes I have found that the rules can be broken. For example everyone says on the Bodgers forum not to include the pith in your Kuksa or spoon. I have a large Sycamore Kuksa with the pith running right through the middle, no splits and still sound and functional.
    The other rule is never cut towards yourself. I teach this to everyone, they watch me and I cut towards myself lots. Having first learnt how to handle a knife you can then learn how to cut towards yourself safely with the necessary stops. One step at a time and the rules change with experience.

  2. Hi Peter!

    Really enjoying your new book, and I’m trying out making a joint stool when I get the odd half-day of spare time. I’ve split out the seat following your instructions, but rather a struggle as I’m using a hedgerow grown oak butt, not nearly so straight-grained at the super material in your photo above. Should get there in the end though.

    On breaking the riving rule I also break it all the time, especially as I split a lot of ash thinnings and sometimes quarters would just be too wasteful, and eighths too small. So I do sixths. I wrote a brief article with photos on this a while ago, if anyone is interested it’s here: http://www.flyingshavings.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/hex-legs-article.pdf

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