about to go

A couple of things before I hit the road this week. For those of you who have written asking questions about carving, now you see why there has been so little of it on the blog this spring & summer – I was holding off until the Lie-Nielsen announcement about the DVD that we have coming up. When I get back to my shop in September I will be doing a few carved projects, and will post some bits here. The DVD will cover the stock I use (riven oak) and a selection of tools; gouges, V-tool, compasses and awl and a wooden mallet. And it includes a series of  patterns, each building upon the previous example. Once you manage them, you will be able to adapt various designs pretty readily. If you missed it, here’s the preview:

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Recently, there was a question about the long rails in a joined chest, how did I rive them, etc. For that, I will remind some folks, and introduce others, to the idea that the blog has a “search” button that might help you see if I have discussed the subject already. I am perfectly happy to go over things many times, (I do that at the museum all day long…) – but you might get your answer quicker if you check the archived stuff first. Here are some posts about riving with a brake:


I’ll be gone two weeks, so in the meantime, try the search button to see what’s what.

Meanwhile, it’s off to the country for me. http://countryworkshops.org/sloyd.html

One thing I have been thinking about for this spoon carving class I am taking is to learn to carve spoons from straight-grained stock. Seems when I want to find straight wood (oak) they are all twisty, and vice versa – when I want spoon wood, it’s often straight stuff I see. This spoon that I photographed last year while I was at Country Workshops was made by Wille Sundqvist. It is a gorgeous thing. Very deceptive little sculpture it is…

Wille's spoon
Wille's spoon side view

I’ve decided, based on an idea Drew Langsner gave me last year, to make several copies of this form over & over. I roughed out a couple of them in holly this week, and will ask Jogge to show me how to finesse them… I’ve always made each spoon different, striving to “see” the spoon in the curved blank. But what Drew was saying is to copy one, that way you’re learning the cuts, not having to work with design as well as execution. Reminds me of how potters sometimes approach a form, throwing the same shapes all day…

The holly developed a pretty strong reaction between the tools and the tannic acid in the wood. Turned the nice white wood blue-grey. I found a suggestion on the web to wipe it with citric acid. Maureen found some lemon in the fridge, and it has taken much of the discoloration away…

Finally, it was 30 years ago this summer that I first visited Country Workshops; taking a class in chairmaking with John (Jenny) Alexander. Amazing what things look like from here, no way I could forsee all that has happened since that week. Here’s Alexander & me at Country Workshops in the late-1980s, with Theodore.

PF JA Theo

Country Workshops again

I got the new issue of Popular Woodworking magazine the other day. I have a short article in there about the tools used by 17th-century joiners…

While I was flipping through the magazine, I was quite pleased to see a 2-page spread about Country Workshops. A nice general feature about their classes, and some of the history of how it came to be. The author took some of the same photos I shot last summer when we were there for my box-making class. These chairs of Drew’s are some of my favorites, especially the low-back version. The chair is pictured in the new article, but without Rose in it… (it’s in Drew’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop too – http://countryworkshops.org/books.html 

Drew's chairs


Drew's low-back chair


It’s hard to take bad pictures there; here is a barn I worked on back in 1988, looking like it belongs there 20+ years later…

the new barn


I’m really looking forward to being back there this summer, as a student this time. Spoon carving with Jogge Sundqvist.

Meanwhile, spring migration is about to really take off here in southern New England. So don’t expect much woodsy bits next week. Here’s a new arrival in our neighborhood today.

eastern bluebird


I’ve posted a bunch of stuff that involved Country Workshops before. For those who missed these the first time around, I dug ’em out for you:




carving video

Well, I got “Hultman’d” the other day…
for those who don’t know what this means, it refers to Kari Hultman, whose blog “The Village Carpenter” http://villagecarpenter.blogspot.com/ is a regular stop for countless woodworkers. I finally met Kari at the Woodworking in America conference in Valley Forge where she shot & edited a video of one of my presentations there… then she posted it on her website, and I asked if I could stick it here too. she said yes.

thanks for the video work, Kari.

preparation for “Woodworking in America”

preparation underway
preparation underway

The picture is the result  of some preparation undeway for my trip to the Woodworking in America  conference in a couple of weeks. http://handtools.woodworkinginamerica.com/register

I’m not bringing all the junk in the picture, I’ll just take some of these oak boards, and leave the firewood and shavings behind.

new stock of oak boards
new stock of oak boards

The other day I started some carved panels that will be part of my demonstration. I hope to cover some carving, joinery, stock preparation – that sort of thing. Anyone with specific ideas/requests, leave a comment & I will see if I can maybe tailor my demonstrations to suit some particular notion. No promise, but worth a shot.

carved panel demo preparation
carved panel demo preparation

one more road trip, Valley Forge, Oct 2-4

It seemed like a good idea at the time…Chris Schwarz wrote to me & asked if I would be a part of the Woodworking in America conference this fall in Valley Forge, PA. http://handtools.woodworkinginamerica.com/GeneralMenu/

It’s the year for me to travel to weirdo conferences, so I stupidly said yes…(maybe Schwarz didn’t hear about me dis-assembling a period piece at Winterthur & then not being able to get it back together…in front of an audience!)

So here I am just about  getting settled back in the shop after coming from Drew’s place; and I have to get ready to pack a bunch of smelly red oak, some tools & furniture & go back out on the road. Not only that, but the roster of folks presenting is pretty impressive; enough to be intimidating, except for that Underhill guy – he’s hasn’t finished a piece of furniture in 30 years…

I think the only reason I get to go is that no one else will make this funny furniture, so they had to pick me. I told Schwarz I’d do it if he let me sit on on some of the saw-related stuff, so I can learn to use one. I’ll bring my hatchet just in case.

carving a chest panel
carving a chest panel


hewing oak panel
hewing oak panel

(Well, the disclaimer part is I am very much looking forward to this gig; it should be a lot of fun. Now, to get that oak open & planed this week so I can work it the end of the month…)

Inspiration & learning

People often ask me about my training at green woodworking in general and joinery in particular. The first part to fall into place came at Country Workshops, which is run by Drew & Louise Langsner in Marshall, NC. It’s the place where I really learned the fundamentals of the woodworking that I do…the specifics of joinery/furniture history/social history  part came later, I’ll tell that one another time. But the tools & wood part was inspired by frequent trips down to the Smoky Mountains, then bumping along the lane to Langsner’s place.


Drew & Louise have run week-long classes there for 31 years now, an amazing accomplishment. The instructors have come from several countries, as have the students. While I was there this month, I kept looking at the inspiring bits & pieces here & there throughout the place, like these homemade door latches that Drew has done on the house & guest house.  I like these sorts of thing, they are a real nice touch.
door latch 
door latch inside
Many of the classes over the years have concentrated on chair-making, the first one I attended back in 1980 was to learn the basics of Jennie (then John) Alexander’s ladderback chair:
Alexander's post-and-rung chair 
Here the kids are sitting in some very nice Windsors Drew made that have been around the shop for some years now…I especially like the lowback version. I never made one of these, this class came along while I was consumed with joinery…
kids in Drew's windsors
Here are two timber-frames, tucked against each other. The one on the left was built with a class back in the mid-1980s…it was at that class that I met Daniel O’Hagan, who became a very strong influence on my approach to woodwork. The second timber frame is a shelter for a wood-fired oven, this frame features some nice natural forms. During our box class, the oven was used for a huge batch of the best pizzas I’ve had in ages.
timber frames
Country Workshops got its start in 1978, when Drew & Louise invited Wille Sundqvist to teach a class in carved woodenware… here’s a photo I copied from Country Workshops’ website www.countryworkshops.org  of Wille in that first class. Woodenware features prominently at each meal during the workshops, a real treat.
Wille Sundqvist 1978
Here is a more recent spoon by Wille, this one’s displayed in a small show-room in the workshop. Others have seen long use at the table, and have developed a great patina.
Wille Sundqvist spoon
It’s a long story, but part of the origins of Country Workshops was when Bill Coperthwaite brought Wille to meet Drew & Louise back in the mid-1970s…
I had a chance to meet Coperthwaite a few years ago, although only briefly…I had been working for a short stint in Machias, Maine & kept hearing folks talking about a guy who lived over in the next cove in a yurt. The yurt was the thing that tipped me off, I remembered Drew mentioning this fellow…we didn’t get over there that visit, but by the next year, I had found Bill’s book, A Handmade Life, and I was hooked. We searched & searched for the path that led to his place, and literally bumped into him, unfortunately as he was on his way out…so another visit is in order. Maybe next year. The book is one of my all-time favorites…very highly regarded.
A Handmade Life, by Wm Coperthwaite. (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, hardcover 2003/paper 2007)
A Handmade Life
A Handmade Life


New England boxes way down South

up towards the workshop
up towards the workshop

I just got back from Country Workshops, (www.countryworkshops.org) where I taught a class how I make a carved oak box, patterned after 17th-century examples. It was great to be back spending time with Drew & Louise Langsner. My Country Workshops experience goes all the way back to 1980, and from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s I was a regular there.

The picture above shows the path up towards the workshop; this is an early-morning view. My kids & I started each day with a walk to see the chickens & cows, then it was off to breakfast, then the shop.

Students learned &  practiced hewing, then planing the oak that was riven from a log…

hatchet & plane work
hatchet & plane work

then some carving work, this case with mallet & V-t0ol.

mallet & V-tool
mallet & V-tool
Once we got to assembly, my photography went by the wayside. So I will have to wait to show the finishing steps…
We did have several watchful eyes through the week. here’s a few,
you can observe a lot by watching
you can observe a lot by watching
Smokey Joe
Smokey Joe



Including the daily visit from the kids to hound Karen to see if her box was done.

Is your box done, Karen?
Is your box done, Karen?

Woodworking on the road

This year I have been on the road a bit…when I started scheduling stuff last year, it seemed like a good idea. Then more & more proposals came along & each one was too good to pass up.  The winter & spring got the Colonial Williamsburg & Winterthur presentations wrapped up…


You're Almost There!In August, I will be at Country Workshops to teach a class in making a carved box. That class is full, it will be a pretty busy week. I am really looking forward to it, Country Workshops is where I really cut my teeth at green woodworking. www.countryworkshops.org  So, I will pack up the family, drive ’til I’m cross-eyed, then look for this mailbox, and then the fun begins. Drew & Louise run a great gig there; well worth a trip sometime. The CW website has the lowdown on the whole show, as well as tools, books, etc for sale, and a forum for information & inspiration. 

CW workshop view
CW workshop view

I just learned this weekend that the registration for the Woodworking in America Handtools & Techniques Conference 2009 is now underway…I have never been, but I gather that these things are really something. I was quite pleased to be asked to participate, and as soon as I get home from Drew’s, I’ll unpack, re-sharpen and start getting stuff ready for October in Valley Forge. Whew. Look at the line-up, it’s impressive…including Roy Underhill, thus you know it’s going to be lively.


recent projects




I have a number of projects underway, as usual. I have just test-fitted these two joined stools, in preparation for the demonstrations I have next week at Winterthur Museum in Delaware. I plan on assembling them there, but haven’t got a chunk of oak big enough for seats right now…


For that demo, I am mainly concentrating on furniture from Plymouth Colony, where this sort of “lipped” tenon was standard practice for joined chests and cupboards. In this configuration, the molding is integral, not applied.


detail, Plymouth Colony joined chest w integral molding
detail, Plymouth Colony joined chest w integral molding





It makes for some complicated work cutting the tenons. The cheeks are sawn, and the joint is not draw-bored. One or two square pins secure the tenon in place. I haven’t done one in almost 15 years, so I will make a new demo piece to replace this grubby-looking example.


PF sample repro of "lipped" tenon
PF sample repro of “lipped” tenon




unassembled view of "lipped" tenon
unassembled view of "lipped" tenon
 But what I have been really excited about is the new London carved pattern I wrote about last week. I knew I would try to squeeze it in, so I carved this sample of it the other day. It took some tinkering to figure out the layout and sequence of cuts. A test version is essential for me when I’m doing something this complex. I got it along pretty well, but knew this one is a sample at best. So I didn’t bother finishing it, but now have a good idea of how to tackle it for next time.

test-carving of London pattern
test-carving of London pattern






box-making class Country Workshops

When I was 18 years old, I was an art-school dropout, and had inherited a basement shop full of modern (c. 1960s) power tools. I had started to learn a bit about using them, and quickly found that I was a bit intimidated by them. Fortunately for me, by the time I was 20, in the fall of 1978 an issue of Fine Woodworking dropped an alternative into my lap. It featured 2 articles, one an excerpt of the book Make a Chair from a Tree, by John Alexander, the other an article on riving by Drew Langsner. I ordered Alexander’s book, and while I waited for it to arrive, read the 2 articles til they were worn.

 In 1980, I saw an advertisement for a week-long class in chairmaking, being held at Drew & Louise Langsner’s craft school Country Workshops, to be taught by John Alexander. I didn’t drive at the time, had practically never been out of New England, wasn’t much of a woodworker, and was terminally shy. I wrote to the address, signed up for the class and made plans to get down to western North Carolina. I was not the star student in the class, to say the least.  

Alexander teaching chairmaking
Alexander teaching chairmaking at Country Workshops, undated

 The class really inspired my interest in this craft, and I stumbled along on my own for a few years. Then I returned to Country Workshops by the mid-1980s, and was for the next five years or more a regular attendee at a number of classes – timber framing, white oak basketry, spoon carving, coopering, as well as ladderback chairs with Alexander and American style Windsor chairs. A woodworker from eastern Pennsylvania named Daniel O’Hagan was one of the teachers I met there, and it was his example of using exclusively hand tools that got me to give away all my machines and power tools. I have never missed them.


woodenware class, Country Workshops, early 1990s
woodenware class, Country Workshops, early 1990s


The late 1970s/early 1980s were an excellent time for green woodworking, a term that I think was coined in print by Alexander. He used to tell us that it was “in the air.” Lots of books, workshops, and activity in this field then…and central to it was Country Workshops. Drew & Louise have worked for 30 years making the workshops happen, bringing in teachers of the highest caliber, finding and eventually selling the best tools designed for the work, and keeping it going year after year, always improving on the facility and the format. (See their website for details of the types of classes they offer www.countryworkshops.org ) Everyone I have ever talked to has had nothing but great praise for the experience of taking a class there. The students come from all over, national & international, and it always is interesting to me that a disparate group can come together over a common appreciation/interest in traditional “green” woodworking and spend a very full week totally immersed in the given subject.


 Drew & Louise are still plugging away, and a couple of years ago my wife & our then nearly 2-yr old twins chugged all the way down there so I could teach a class in making a carved box. I am delighted to be returning this summer to repeat that class. Drew tells me there’s a couple of slots left, so if you are inclined, drop him an email at langsner@countryworkshops.org  There’s classes year-round and the details are listed on the website.

Country Workshops students, carved box class 2007
Country Workshops students, carved box class 2007


PF carving demo at Country Workshops
PF carving demo at Country Workshops