North House Folk School

Some thoughts and interspersed photos from my week at North House Folk School.

Clearly North House Folk School is doing something right. Over 350 classes & 3,000 students per year? It makes my head swim. I just got back from a week-plus there – If you’ve not heard of them, their website is great. Be sure to watch the 10-minute film about the school.  https://northhouse.org/

The event was called “Wood Week” – two 3-day sessions, with an in-between day of demonstrations, films, and the legendary pizza night. I didn’t take any useful photos to give you an idea of the scope of the event. There were so many courses, including mine – and I didn’t get to peek into more than just one or two. I’ll just cop out & copy the info from their website about the offerings:

“Choose from a dozen courses, including returning favorites in bowl carving with Jon Strom, spoon carving with Fred Livesay and Mike Loeffler, Krympburkar: Scandanavian-Style Shrink Boxes with Paul Linden & Jim Sannerud, and figure carving with Harley Refsal. Or, try something new with Bruce Futterer (Carving Facial Detail), Liesl Chatman (Kolrosing), or Jock Holmen (Dragon Head Carving).”

The view outside the shop where I was teaching:

A setting that is out of this world – out of mine, anyway. The lake there is so nice they call it Superior. The tide never goes out. The town of Grand Marais is quite nice too. Small, friendly, nice place for walking. 

One piece that I especially liked was the evening presentations by several craftspeople, none of whom had grey hair. Lots of young people around North House, delving deeply into crafts of many kinds. We heard from Mike Loeffler and Mary Beth Garmoe about time they both spent in Sweden & Norway as part of an Artisan Development Program run by North House. Two years at North House, culminating in a several-weeks-long trip through some of Scandinavia, working and studying with various artisans. What an experience for these people. 

During the week we also saw demonstrations by Dawson Moore and Rose Holdorf – Dawson’s about the spoon mule he’s developed, following some initial input from Jarrod.  Rose showed us methods she uses for making a post & rung stool. She managed to get the whole thing built in just an hour, having the parts made up ahead of time. The third presentation in this lineup was Angela Robbins showing how she hews a bowl with an axe and adze. Like Mike and Mary Beth, Angela was an ADP recipient. 

Here’s Rose carving in one of my classes –

I didn’t get photos of the pizza night – I’d guess 100-130 pizzas baked in the wood-fired oven on Friday night. Friday was called the “carver’s conference” and it consisted of all of the instructors demonstrating for the day. The students who had been in the first session were welcomed to stay over and see what they missed in other classes; and the incoming students likewise were welcome to come in early. After the pizza party, I gave a talk about three of the people who were either teachers of mine, (Jennie Alexander and Daniel O’Hagan) or inspiration (Bill Coperthwaite) – my talk was well-received – people were kind to sit through something that was a little different than my usual woodsy lecture. 

Among the instructors in the 2nd go-round was Alex Yerks – and he & I were trying to remember if we’d ever seen each other in this country. We think not. We first met in England, and then in Australia. So this was our first US gig maybe.  One other highlight – Liesl Chatman and her partner Erin gave a riveting presentation about their frequent travels in New Zealand. It was a moving talk.

Lots of things like this in the ceiling – I think they catch the dust and keep it  off the benches.

A sunrise – the time changed while I was out there, so I caught a sunrise by accident.

This sod-roof timber frame must have been a class at some point. Everyone gets lots of photos of it…including me.

This is blog post #1,234 for me. That’s a lot of words and pictures over the years. More on that thought another time.

There were a lot of links for this post – I moved most of them here:

The North House blog – https://northhouse.org/blog

The Artisan Development Program https://northhouse.org/get-involved/artisan-development-program

Dawson Moore’s Spoon Mule plans – https://www.michigansloyd.com/products/spoon-mule-plans

Alex Yerks’ Instagram https://www.instagram.com/alex_yerks/?hl=en

Liesl Chatman’s Instagram https://www.instagram.com/rivchicawarrior/?hl=en

 

carving an oak panel

Yesterday my intention was to carve this oak panel for a wainscot chair & photograph many of the steps showing some decision-making that happens when tackling a detailed carving…but then I saw that several cameras here had dead batteries all at once. So while the batteries were charging, I began the carving. All I got of the beginning is this Ipad photo, showing some of the initial V-tool work.

It’s a big panel, one I’ve been saving for I think about 4 years. The carving inside the margins is 12 3/4″ wide by 15″ high. That’s a huge piece of riven oak. This one’s perfect – dead straight all the way from one margin to the other. I’m going to miss it when it’s gone. I started with a vertical centerline, and then struck an arc with a compass that defines the arch at the top. From there, I used some chalk to get the gist of the pattern I wanted. The urn at the bottom I outlined by striking two circles left & right of the centerline, then connecting them with an upper & lower tangent line. From there, everything else is freehand. Next I figure where that vine is that comes from the urn and flows outward left & right then splits in half. The top half connects up to the arch; the bottom  half winds down to form a large round flower. All you need is what I call “approximate symmetry.” The points where the vine splits and goes up & down you can find with a square across the board, then measure out from the center – so the left & right agree.

Once one of the batteries charged, I shot a few photos. Here’s most of the V-tool work done.

After the V-tool work comes background removal. I always use a Swiss-made #5 gouge. It’s about 1/2″ wide. Mine has slightly rounded corners, making it easier to get in & out of places. They come from the manufacturer dead-straight across.

The big flowers aren’t V-tool work. I struck circles to locate them, then use a couple different gouges to strike the outlines of the petal.

In this next photo, I’m using a #7 gouge to define some leaf-shapes that blend out from the vine. Just below where I am working (above in the photo, but below on the panel) is a mistake – I beveled the area where these leaves will go on that vine. Better to define the leaves first, then bevel. Less fragile that way.

Now you can see some of these leaves cut out above the vine – and I’m just about to knock out some background on the next batch.

Then using a few gouges to layer the flowers. They’re hollowed in each petal, and have an inner & outer row of petals.

After a bit, all the roughing-out is done. Then it’s just picking at details. This is where I got yesterday. I’ve started to try to track my time for various operations – it’s been years since I’ve done so. From the blank panel to this was just under 3 hours – a long time for one carving.

Today I finished it. Using the gouge bevel up to give the petals a bit of a bevel themselves.

There’s lots of these shapes cut into leaves all over.

As always, the general notion is “no blank space.”

The finished panel. total time was about 3 3/4 hours.

A question I get a lot is “where can I get designs/images to carve from?”

I’m working towards part of the answer to that question being “from me…” – I’ve been drawing patterns a lot for the past year or so, since the book Joiner’s Work has been done. The drawings started as a coloring book. Then that idea got shelved, and now the idea is sets of loose sheets showing patterns for rails, panels, box fronts.

Here’s an example – this is the design I started with for the wainscot chair panel. I drew it full-scale, based on a couple of related panels. I combined bits of this one with bits of that one. But when I got to carving, some things changed. Nothing major, but here & there some details were easier to fit on the drawing than on the oak. The V-tool is wider than a pencil point. The drawing is a place to begin – that’s all. Now that I figured out what urn I wanted in this panel, I can finish the drawing!

 

You can see the cover of the book is a related panel – that one’s part of a bedstead. Narrower, so less detail.

Here’s the link to the book at Lost Art Press https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work

trestle table frame

Time for my wife to start her flowers indoors. Last year, she started them on top of a chest I want to haul out to the shop to finish. So I made a trestle table frame to take its place. Looking at this photo, it looks crazy-out-of-whack. I had checked it before I left the shop and those two top rails seemed to be in a plane. We’ll see when I go to put a top on it.

It’s ash, quartersawn. 2″ x 3 5/8″. I had a few lengths of them laying around, leftover from something, I can’t even remember what. I wimped out and made the mortises by boring and chopping. They’re 1/2″ wide, by the width of the stock –  3 5/8″. Here, I need to lean a little to my right when I bore this.

Seven 1/2″ holes per mortise.

Then chop ’em out. This is how I first learned to make mortises way back before I learned joinery. It works. I chose this method because this was dry, sawn stock. Not as reliable as the riven stock I usually use. It’s mostly clear and pretty straight grained, but still more character than I usually use. 

Making tenons was just as usual, saw the shoulders, split the cheeks. More paring than on riven stock. But nothing too dramatic.

Paring with a large 2″ framing chisel. This is the long stretcher that runs between the uprights.

Chamfers and lamb’s tongues are typical for this sort of work. Saw the stop.

I chop back toward the stop with a chisel, held bevel down.

Then drawknife the chamfer. Carefully with the sawn grain. Wiggle here & there.

This is the lamb’s tongue. The photo is completely foolish. If I shot cutting it, you wouldn’t see anything. Bevel down, scoop as you strike with the mallet. The chisel handle is tilted up high to begin with, then quickly comes down as you knock it forward. I like it when the lamb’s tongue comes out just proud of the chamfer.

Then drawbore it & wedge it. The drawboring is nothing new. I use two pins per joint. These pin holes were 5/16″ or so.

The mortises for the wedges – I started with a 9/16″ hole, then chopped it beyond the layout line towards the shoulder. (this makes sure the wedges bears on the upright, not on the inside of the mortise) – Then the outside end of the mortise is chopped at an angle. very slight. Eyeballed, not measured.

Then make extra-long wedges, drive them until they stop, then you know where to trim them. I chamfer all the ends of the wedges, as well as the protruding end of the stretcher tenons.

Because this table will see some dirt, water and other debris – I’m just going to put three 1 x 8s on it for the top. If it ever becomes a real table somewhere, I can always add a true top to it. The frame is about 4′ long, the top will be nearly 6′. I think the whole frame was somewhere in the vicinity of 10 hours. It looks it. I could have made a bit neater job of it, but it wasn’t necessary. I wanted to get it done quickly, yet still have it strong & functional.

the next wainscot chair

I’ve been working on some blog-housekeeping lately, with more to come. I re-did some of the drop-down menus at the top of the blog. A couple new pages just show examples of things like carved boxes, wainscot chairs, chests, etc. On the side menu there’s a link to the page at Lie-Nielsen for the videos they produced of my work.  I think there’s 8 of them now, including the new one about making a shaving horse. I have some of the shaving horse one for sale still, or you can get them from LN.

Meanwhile, I’ve just started another version of the chair above. The wainscot chair isn’t in the book Joiner’s Work, but I did shoot a DVD with Lie-Nielsen about building one. Making the rear posts is as “un-green-woodworking” as you can get. The wood is fresh, wet, all that. BUT – it’s non-supportable in an ecological sense. The back posts are hewn and planed out of a large piece of oak. Most of which ends up as chips. Here’s a side view, showing what I’m after.

Here’s how I shaped them this week. The bolt I shape them from is about 4′ long, and initially maybe 6″x 6″. There’s one on the sawbuck in the right of this photo. I’m using a hatchet to remove the bark first.

This is a case where I work the tangential, or growth ring plane first. Now using a joiner’s hatchet to get a relatively clean surface to lay out the shape on.

I lay the chair stick on there, and shift it this way & that to get the orientation the best I can. There’s compromises happening with grain direction. I’d like the upper part to follow the fibers, but then I’d need an even bigger bolt to start with. So shift it some more.

Using a froe to knock some excess stock out of the way.

In the shop now, having planed the surface some, re-do the layout of the shape. But there’s one problem down at the foot. The riven shape falls away, so I had to shift the stick over some more.

The detail showing how the stock is tapered under that surface.

There’s a lot of back & forth between the planes, the hatchet and layout with the chair stick.

 

A chalk line to mark out the width of the stile – then hewing it to nearly that line.

I almost gave up this indoor chopping block. It’s in a tight space & I don’t often use it. But I’ve had this particular one since 2001 so I figure I’ve kept it this long…

checking the front face above the seat, I want it flat along its length. There’s going to be joinery in two planes there, and carving too.

The front face both above & below the seat level are mostly defined now, and I’ve laid out the back line to this post.

The easiest way to hew that rear section is to cut reliefs in the wood along the layout lines. These saw cuts go down to a depth, then I hew to them.

I’ve switched to a smaller hatchet, this one by Julia Kalthoff https://www.instagram.com/kalthoffaxes/?hl=en. I’m using it to knock out the blocks between the saw kerfs. Several saw kerfs takes most of risk out of this step. You can do it with one, right at the junction between up & down. But more kerfs helps.

I set it on the bench now on its face to work the back surface.

A holdfast grips it down to the bench, and I shimmed under the foot at the other end. Then went at it with the scrub plane. Flipped it end for end to do the same to the top end.

The first one took forever, because I was photographing it. The second one went more quickly. About halfway through the 2nd one, I switched from using the chair stick as reference to using the first post. More important that they match each other than getting them to agree to the stick. I timed the 2nd one and it was 1 hour & 5 minutes from the split-out section to the finished post. All the steps above included. Now these (and the other parts for this chair) will sit for a month to six weeks to begin drying at the surface. Then I’ll work them along, planning to work on this chair at Fine Woodworking Live in April. http://www.finewoodworkinglive.com/ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

new small toolbox

In between a few recent projects I made a new small toolbox. Pretty early in the year for me to cut dovetails. It’s white pine, 11″ high, 12″ x 28″ on the outside of that lower skirt. Made it to replace an open tray that housed my boring tools and jigs for making JA ladderback chairs.  It was a great amount of blank space that bothered me, so you can see I started laying out some chip carving on the front.

But I can switch stuff out & travel with it too. Those snappy iron handles by Peter Ross make me want to pick it up.

There’s a till inside, for bits, line levels and other small stuff. Till lid is American sycamore.

One long divider inside, to separate the bit extenders we use in for boring the chair posts, the oak blocks for holding the posts when boring, etc. I’m going to make a removable tray to sit on top of that stuff next.

 

But I couldn’t leave it at that. I have two joined stools I’m coloring recently, so have been making a mess with milk paint. I had some mustard paint around that wasn’t going to make it on the stools, so I put some on this box. Then began the carving. I like chip carving, but don’t have the discipline to do the perfect job you see many doing these days. It’s too slow. Mine are best viewed from a distance.

Here is the toolbox with the open tray it’s replacing. And some of the stuff that’ll go in it.

And open.

It’ll never look that good again, it just got shoved under the other workbench. And there it will gather dust & get kicked around. That’s why I built it with the skirt to reinforce its construction. The chairmaking tools – braces, drawknives, bit extenders – are heavy. My mid-1980s Japanese-style toolbox is just to the left of it under the bench. In that are mostly student tools – extra spoon carving tools, random metal-bodied plane or two, extra braces, etc. Usually I move all that stuff to a temporary box when I travel. Now that will stay put & the yellow box will become the schizoid tool box. At home one thing, on the road another.

Here’s the toolbox that doesn’t move. I built it after Chris Schwarz wrote his book about them. And painted it too. I couldn’t bear to look at all that blank wood. I see from the links below that was January 2012. Time flies.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/a-solution-to-too-much-blank-space/

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/another-day-of-painting/

 

Tim Manney’s shaving horse at Plymouth CRAFT

Last weekend Tim Manney came down to Plymouth from Maine to teach 6 Plymouth CRAFT students how to make his shaving horse. Tim;’s version is well-known now; he had an article in Fine Woodworking about it, (issue #262, Jul/Aug 2017) and in the same issue Curtis Buchanan was quoted as saying that he thinks he’s spent over 20,000 hours at a shaving horse, and that Tim’s is the best he’s used.

Tim’s main focus is that the horse can be built with everyday materials; but carefully-selected everyday materials. It’s almost all 2 x 6 or so material, some thinner stuff and a little bit of hard maple. This course was a bit of a departure for Plymouth CRAFT in that some of the work was prepped ahead of time by Tim, and there were even some machines invovled. Mostly a drill-press. Here’s some of the shots I got during the class.

Stacks of parts prepped by Tim.

Jake trimming some of the first glue-ups, the leg-to-rails.

Tim sneaking underneath, showing how to adjust the leg assembly prior to clamping the glue-up.

Tim marching down the line, checking on progress.

Winding sticks helping to line up the front & rear legs.

This was our first time running this class. We kept class size small. That gets a lot of attention, and lots of detail. Here David and Andy work together to line up the clamps on Andy’s horse. Craig must be on deck.

Half of the dumbhead assembly set up in place – to check its placement and glue-up.

This is the next step – the full dumbhead base now. It gets wedged below the “bed” of the horse.

Tim demonstrating layout for the wedge mortise.

Craig cleaning up the mortise with a chisel.

David has a small smirk on his face, as his horse is coming together.

Diane was amazing – absolute new woodworker, dove in the deep end. Now she’ll be off to a great start.

Not quite done, but nearly so. This one still needs the work surface under the head.

We got done in time to bring in some green wood & distribute some drawknives so everyone could test-drive their creation under Tim’s direction. Paula Marcoux & I shot photos of the group as they worked their horses for the first time.

Tim has measured plans available for his shaving horse, and we’ll get him back sometime to do this class again. First he has to recover. Here’s his shaving horse plans web-page https://www.timmanney.com/work/shavinghorseplans 

Plymouth CRAFT’s website – so you can sign up for the newsletter for future workshops – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/

 

Pieces underway and a stool & box for sale

More goings-on in the shop. I took a dozen-plus chair rungs and set them in the kiln to “super-dry” them. I’m awful at things like making equipment, fixtures, etc. This kiln is bare-bones, insulation board and duct tape. cross-pieces poked through it to support the rungs, and a light bulb inside. Just a clip-light. The guts of it hang below the box, in the milk crate.

You can just see the rim of the light set in the bottom inside. The rungs are loosely piled in there.

145 degrees F.

The hickory rungs had been shaved months ago, and stored in the ceiling in the shop. When the batch went into the kiln, they weighed 3lbs/9.6oz. I weighed them repeatedly until they stopped losing weight – they finished at 3lbs/4.6oz. Once they kept that weight for a day or two, I then bored the chair posts and built the chair. The notion is that the chair’s rungs will only swell in time, they’ll never be this dry/shrunken again. The posts have a higher moisture content, not having been kiln-dried. They will shrink over time. Viola, a chair. Hickory, with white oak slats. I have yet to scrape and clean up the slats. It will get a hickory bark seat.

Today I spent planing some green wood for boxes and a chest. But took a half-hour to start the next carved box. This piece of white oak was planed in November – it’s surface is just right now for carving. The pattern, inspired by some of the many pieces posted by Marhamchurch Antiques, is almost entirely free-hand. Layout is just a vertical centerline. I’m right-handed, and I carve most fluidly to my left. So I start a carving like this just to one side of the center. Then the hard part is matching that on the right. I ran out of time, so that’s for another day. Once I finish that V-tool work, the background and some small details will be a snap. Height is 7″ width is 21″.

I did scribe two circles with a compass, these will become flowers in the carving. Then I can locate the same circles on the right half, which will help orient things there.

[Marhamchurch Antiques is a great resource for oak furniture in England. Just amazing quantity and quality… https://www.marhamchurchantiques.com/  I never miss a post, and I follow them on IG too. ]

I’ll be out of the shop for a few days, with Plymouth CRAFT hosting Tim Manney’s shaving horse class. So I stood these freshly planed white oak boards up to air out while the shop is empty. These run about 9″-11 1/2″ wide, 20″-22″ long. Perfect for chest panels, I’ll have to trim them narrower for box fronts.

 

FOR SALE

Just two items right now, If you’d like to purchase the stool or box here, just leave a comment or write and we can go through paypal or a check… email is peterfollansbee7@gmail.com    I welcome custom work too, I often make boxes, chairs and more on order, Email me if you’d like to inquire about some custom work.

POST & RUNG STOOL

I showed this stool the other day – made during a photo shoot for Fine Woodworking Magazine. The nature of that work is to have extra parts on hand in case something goes wrong. I ended up with an “extra” frame, so stuck it up in the loft for awhile, then just put the Shaker tape seat on it last week.

H: 17″  W: 17″  D: 14″
$400 plus shipping

CARVED & PAINTED BOX  – SOLD

And this oak box is one I made in December, and put the lid on it this month. White oak box & lid, white pine bottom. Till inside. Wooden hinge, red & black oil paint highlighting the background of the carving.

H: 7 1/2″   W: 22 1/2″  D:  13 1/2″
$1,000 plus shipping

 

Here’s the post about painting it https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/carved-and-painted/