I’m lucky

view upstairs
out the living room window

I am really lucky. Last year, my wife & I decided to concentrate our efforts on things we really believed in, contrary to some of our actions at that time. So I quit my job, and we began home-schooling the kids this past fall. A large part of my income is from travelling to teach workshops, but some of it happens here at home. I’m lucky that so far, we can get away with it. So far. It could go bad at any time.

What does this have to do with the weather? Simple. I have always liked winter. But I used to complain loudly about summer heat & humidity. One beastly summer day I decided that if I kept up complaining about it, then there were odds that each year, for upwards of maybe 15-20 or so days, I’d be in a bad mood right off the bat. Seems stupid to let something so out of my control steer my days, so I quit feeling that way. Threw the switch in my head that said “I hate this…” and  just slowed down on humid days, and expected things to take longer than “ordinary”.

But as long as I can remember, I have liked shoveling the snow. In the storms we’ve had this past month, it’s been great work. Hard physical work, that warms you up on a winter day. Bright fresh air like no other time of year, and almost no traffic. quiet like we don’t often get around here. I had a very nice offer from a neighbor the other day – “I can bring my snowblower over & get this done quickly.” – I thanked her, and told her I was lucky, I don’t have to go anywhere for a few weeks. I can take my time & spread this work out. Didn’t have to do it all today,…thanks just the same. It took some convincing, she offered too to have her husband sweep through with the plow. Nope – thanks, it’s OK. Really, it’s all right. I told her if it was wet snow, I’d take her up on it. That made her feel better.

People just can’t conceive that I might like this. The kids were out playing in the snow, the bird feeders were busy as all get out. There were hawks circling high overhead. The sky was blue like no other. It was fine really. I am lucky. Temporarily able-bodied, one person once said. While that’s the case, I’m going to enjoy it. I work at it til I’m tired, then I rest. There’s a lot to take in…dark-eyed juncos, (Thoreau’s “snowbird”) everywhere, common goldeneye in the river; a little wren working its way in & out of the ivy on the side of the house. The kids romping in the snow. When I start to get cold, then I know it’s time to work again. I understand other folks have different challenges and that this weather makes it hard for them. But I am sure that many are just complaining out of habit, rather than hardship. If they could just throw that switch in their heads…

I am lucky. I don’t have to be anywhere. I’m not complaining.

view downstairs
view from downstairs

 
goldeneye 2

junco

kids

Chairs

cod 2003

At my house, the carved joined stuff is in every room. I have tried many times, and always failed, to count the pieces of furniture in this 4 1/2 room house. You’d be amazed at how much stuff you can cram in here. (I’m in the kitchen right now – 9 pieces of free-standing furniture, 3 hanging on the wall, and all the built-in cupboards above the counters)

 plain chair

This week, I have been making this little, big rush-seated chair. Little because it’s a low seat, generally small-size chair. Big because it’s not subtle – the posts are almost 2” square, the rungs fit in holes that are 15/16” in diameter. So little big chair. It’s based on 17th-century chairs that we mostly know from Dutch artwork, more-so than from surviving examples. (next up for it is trimming the posts here & there, weaving the seat…) These are ancestors of the ladderback chairs that I first learned back in the late 1970s/80s. Here’s one that I did about 1984 or so. A more recent kid’s version too.

ladderback

kids

 

I began as a chairmaker. Made ladderbacks, rockers, Windsors – then got into the 17th century & made wainscot chairs, 3-legged & 4-legged. Turned chairs ditto. Leather chairs. Chairs w boxes in the seat. Kid’s chairs, high chairs. My semi-latest chair was the walnut brettstuhl.

But at our kitchen table, the chairs we use at every meal and then some are Windsor chairs I made 20-25 years ago.

c a chair

At my desk too. I once had one of those stupid office chairs, then I came to my senses & remembered that I am a chairmaker. Windsors are lightweight, comfortable, attractive. Sturdy. Fun and challenging to build; carving, turning, shaved work, sculpted seats. good all around projects. And so much variety.

Two things happened this week to remind me of how much I like good Windsor chairs. Lost Art Press announced the release of Pete Galbert’s long-awaited book on Windsor chairs. You already know about that…

One of the days that the mail got through here, I received Curtis Buchanan’s next installment in his printed plans for his chairs, this one a fanback side chair, one of my favorites.

Curtis Buchanan fanback side chair

c b plans

I learned Windsors from Curtis, starting in 1987. I really like his approach, both to his chairs and to his life. If you’ve seen his youtube series on making a Windsor chair – then you’ve seen Curtis’ style, very human, simple, direct – and he makes especially beautiful chairs. This set of plans is 4 pages; some 1/2 scale, some full scale. Two different turning patterns, bending forms, seat profile & plan. Boring angles – a course in Windsor chair making in 4 pages. I’m ordering Pete’s book, but I’m keeping Curtis’ plans too – you never know when I might reach into my past & make some more chairs. We must be able to squeeze one or two more in here…

links:

Curtis’ plans & videos http://www.curtisbuchananchairmaker.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html

Pete’s book: http://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/chairmakers-notebook

my wainscot chair video  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/book-dvds/

 

 

 

 

Why do I make spoons?

 

spoons

Why do I make spoons? people ask me, but I ask myself as well. Not for money, the way I make & sell them is cumbersome at best. I do sell them, and it brings in some money, but the time I spend at it negates some of the “profit.” I am always appreciative when someone buys one of my spoons, it means a lot to be to have that sort of support. I am not interested in pursuing production runs, efficient sales, etc – that’s not my bag. If I were to get serious about that, I should do it with furniture, which is more lucrative. I’m faster at it, and it’d  be a better return for my time. But for me, that’s not what woodworking is about.

It’s not as if a household needs dozens of spoons. sure we can use a lot of them in cooking, serving & eating – but be serious. we have way more than we need. And the ones from the dollar store could serve us just fine, and we’d be none the wiser. Indeed, the great majority of the population will never know the difference.

But there is this craze about wooden spoons and spoon carving in full bloom right now. Why? Why now?

I think the internet/computer use is behind it, in two ways. As we as a society use screen-devices more and more, it has driven us further away from human contact, but conversely connected us more, if that makes sense. The notion of making a wooden spoon with a hatchet and knife has been around in the US woodworking arena since the late 1970s at least. The principal influence I remember is Wille Sundqvist, but also Dan Dustin got a short feature in Fine Woodworking back in the 1980s. Dan is an original, his spoons have nothing to do with Wille’s work. I’m sure there were others, but maybe they got less coverage. Maybe I wasn’t looking. I learned from Wille, Jogge & Drew Langsner. Thought not much about it for many years, just usually kept some spoon carving in tandem with my furniture work. they made great gifts, “Oh, look – a wooden spoon!” then on the shelf it goes…

Robin Wood has cited, correctly to some degree I think, that the spoon work is attractive because you need no shop, or certainly limited space. Someplace to hew the blanks, then the rest can be done in your lap. Small quantities of wood. And they don’t take months to do like some large case furniture for instance.

For me, there’s more to it than that. There’s a connection between people and raw materials that is now rare. Maybe not in my household, or in yours, but I’m sorry to tell you that we are on the fringes of society. The general population doesn’t even think about these things.

At our house, we like to increase the handmade items we surround ourselves with. Woodenware, ceramics, woolens – as much as we can, we prefer to have people-made stuff around, handmade. There;’s a connection that you think about as you reach for that bowl, that spoon – pull on that sweater.

I’m thinking of these things lately for lots of reasons, but one is because I just finished reading A Man Apart: Bill Coperthwaite’s Radical Experiment in Living by Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow.

Picture

I only knew Bill a little bit, but his influence reached across decades. If you carved a spoon in America based on Wille Sunqvist’s work, Bill was the one who shoved that snowball down the hill. The book is not about spoon carving, nor really about woodworking. It’s about the relationship between mentor & mentor-ed. And about how to live, as Bill saw it…

After I finished the book, I couldn’t concentrate. My mind was swirling around about how to live, what is important, what is dross. The only book I could pick up in the days after finishing it was Thoreau’s journal.

I can’t wait to carve my next spoon.

I save the finishing touches for last

hewn bowl 14-04 catalpa

Today I was thinking a lot about hewing a bowl with an adze. I was swinging a tool up and down, chopping into a large hollow shape, getting out the innards, and pulling out the chips. Getting more & more open = chop, sweep, chop, sweep. But instead of the confines of my home shop, I was on the ladder, chopping ice out of the old house’s gutters. Now the melting snow flows, but soon it will ice up again. Anyway, it was a nice afternoon up there in the heavens- but  the only woodwork was in my head.

paint

I did get a first coat of paint on the oak box I made. I checked the schedule, and decided I’d try to get it painted before I ship it off to Alaska. It looked too bland as it was. After this part dries, I’ll put some black squiggles & dots, then a coat of thin red over the oak. the paints are linseed oil/turpentine with iron oxide (red) and yellow ochre; and bone black. I mixed some raw umber in to help the drying too. The lid looks like it’s painted white in the photo above, but that’s just all the light from the snow. It’s a white pine lid, so very pale.

The layout for the oval on the lid, and a view of the till inside – recycled chip carving practice.

oval

till

The cedar box just got linseed oil and turpentine. Helps highlight the carvings. Two comments yesterday from stitch-women (up-graded from stitch-girls; i.e. textile arisans – thanks Denise & Mary) praised the odd-proportioned box, one suggesting a sewing box. So now I know how to market it.

cedar box side view

cedar lid

 

Here’s one many of you have seen before, related to the oak one I’m doing now.

carved oak box

 

 

A box and a Box

yc box

I finished making the two carved boxes I’ve been working on. The first one is this yellow cedar “sampler” box for my class in Alaska. Jonathan and the rest of the Alaska Creative Woodworkers Association sent me some Alaska yellow cedar so I could test it out before we ordered it for the class. The wood will work fine, and I carved this one with a range of patterns – hence “sampler.” The side, and the pintle hinge:

yc box open

The inside of the lid:yc box open carved lid

What’s weird about it is the proportions. Not weird really. Just ugly. there’s a reason you don’t see 17th century boxes this size – because they’re both ugly and stupid. But it maximized what I got out of the boards they sent down. overall size is 6 1/4″ H, 11 1/2″ W and 7 1/2′ D. So I made a proper oak and white pine box, just to make me feel less unsettled.

oak & pine box

 

Someone yesterday commented that this design reminded them of Northwest coast work – well, it is northwest – but northwest of Boston Massachusetts, c. 1680s/90s. Look at the side I carved = even more so. This one is H: 7″  W: 17″  D:  11″

oak box side

 

Here are some of the period carvings I was following somewhat

box ad

concord detail

I’ll paint mine, but maybe not right now. I have to send them by dogsled to Anchorage – whoops – we have more snow than them. I’ll use UPS I guess. Here’s the two side-by-side.

 

 

both boxes

 

 

 

I almost knuckled down & worked a full day

I set out to work on a couple of boxes the past few days. I have one in oak and one in Alaskan yellow cedar underway. This is the front of the oak box. set in a vise to drive the wooden pins in the corners. It’s going to be painted in addition to the carving.

box w pegs

 

When I peg the corners instead of nailing them, I glue it too. So while this one set for the glue to dry, I went back to one from a while ago in Alaskan yellow cedar. I am teaching in Alaska this spring, http://www.alaskacreativewoodworkers.org/registration-for-the-peter-follansbee-classes-is-open/ and the guys there sent me some amazing wood to test. I carved a bunch of sample patterns in it, to get the hang of it. So I cut a few of them out to make a box. This one is unlike any box I have ever made – it’s carved on all four sides; inside on the ends, and the lid, inside & out. That way, I get to bring as many different examples in one item as I can. Usually I have a large box full of sample patterns I bring to classes – but I usually drive too. Alaska is VERY far away from here. So this box is going to serve as a sampler. Here’s what I carved on the lid:

yellow cedar

lozenge

lozenge pt 2

done

B side

b side done

 

I got the bottom cut, then the lid & its cleats. But I stopped right before final assembly. If I kept going, I’d be out of time – & wouldn’t get to go outside to play with the kids. The boxes can wait until tomorrow. This photo wasn’t today, but a day last week. Same idea, go out & play in the snow:

bay farm walk

 

 

nostalgia at a shaving horse

Starting last year, I took up writing a regular column for Popular Woodworking Magazine, called Arts and Mysteries. It’s 2 pages in each issue, and it’s fun to do. The lag between writing and seeing it in print is lengthy, so I forget what’s been done and what’s not. I think there’s been about 4 columns so far, maybe 5. I’m working on the next batch now. http://www.popularwoodworking.com/

shaving oak

Today I had to get out my shaving horse for some photos I was shooting for an upcoming piece about chairs. Once the photos were done, I figured I’d do some drawknife work that I’d been meaning to get to. I have some baskets to finish, got to make rims and handles for maybe 5 of them.

Nothing is as nostalgic to me as working with a shaving horse and drawknife. I hardly use them anymore, but when I do it always reminds me of where I began; making chairs, baskets and other shaved work. For a few years, it was the only work bench I had…

At one time I had several drawknives, but now I’m down to two and one of those is put away. The one I favored over any other I tried is this old drawknife made in New York; White is the name, but I think they’re the same shapes at Barton drawknives. Mine’s 8″ long, I have seen them up to 12″ or more. Original handles, and tight. It’s not as clean and bright as it might be, but I try to keep it sharp.

drawknife

A year or two ago I saw Tim Manney demonstrating Peter Galbert’s drawknife sharpening jig. The way Tim cut the end grain of white pine – I felt like a rube from the country, because next time I was at Lie-Nielsen, I plunked down the cash to get one. It made me want to get a bunch of drawknives and re-hab them..but I’ll stick with this one.

http://www.chairnotes.blogspot.com/search/label/Drawsharp

While I’m looking at tools – one more I splurged for some time back, a few years now I think. When I make spoons, I use a pencil, but if you’ve been around when I make furniture, or carve furniture, you know I hate pencils. I use an awl every day I work at the bench.  For many years, I used an awl Alexander made from an alignment tool, ground & sharpened, fitted with a wooden handle. Then I met Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool event. I decided to order an awl and marking knife…and never looked back. The best part? Dave asked what kind of wood I wanted the handles to be, and I said I don’t care. He made the from oak. It’s a tool that’s a real pleasure to use.

bllue spruce awl

http://www.bluesprucetoolworks.com/

Here’s some of what I shaved, basket “ears” – white oak, my favorite for bending. These are for swing-handle baskets. The ear in the orange clamp is a perfect bend; the one in the red clamp is completely un-perfect.

perfect & not perfect

Here’s the detail:

detail

 

 

These are notched for the basket rims, and tapered to weave down into the basket.
ready to go

 

 

like this:swing handle basket

swing handle detail
swing handle detail