England 2015

england 1

I’m back from teaching two classes with the New English Workshop. It was my first trip to England to do woodworking, my previous visits had been for furniture study. It’s an amazing place, a rural little island filled with hobbits and badgers and twitchers and train spotters.

The classes were held at two colleges, my first at Warwick College in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Jamie Ward of the College was very helpful and the students there were quite flexible as we worked out the kinks. The first of which was some oak logs that looked like bad firewood. Poor Paul Mayon – he picked me up the first morning, brought me to the school, and we’d known each other for all of 20 minutes when I was telling him that the oak bolts they had were next to useless. Undaunted, Paul trucked off in his typically British tiny car and bought a new section of giant oak (2 really, the 2nd arrived the next day.) installed into Paul’s car with a forklift, I wasn’t sure it would ever come out. Paul’s car was riding low, for a 2-plus hour drive. Meanwhile the students dove in & split what we had so we could get started at least. They were great.

hewing week 1
hewing

Our class was at one end of the room, while Tom Fidgen’s was at the other end. It was diffuse porous vs ring porous (cherry v oak) all week. You could hear our shavings hit the floor, while theirs floated down to the bottom.

caught among the ring porous
Tom Fidgen scurrying back to diffuse porous land

Lots of camaraderie in the evenings, we even had a token American who had been traded to the RAF…

Boxes got made, carving patterns all over the place. Tricia was adamant that she would finish her box, I think her first woodworking project.

photo
Tricia got a photo, so that means it must have happened

The English oak,which by habit I kept calling white oak, was different than our white oak. I know it’s sacrilege to say it, but it felt lighter weight, a bit softer, and certainly easier to split. Even the better logs had knots in them and we were able to split right through them like I never can in American white oak (Quercia alba)

On the weekend, I met up w Mr & Mrs Underhill of Graham, NC, who were there for Roy to teach week 2 in Leamington. We had dinner one night, then the old switcheroo was scheduled for that Saturday – Paul was bringing Chris Schwarz who had been teaching down in Somerset up to Leamington, then turning around to take me down to Zummerzet so I could do week 2 there at Bridgwater College. A too-short round-table lunch was had by all before we headed south…the only other times Roy, Chris & I had all been together had been WIA events, in which case we never saw each other. Hand tool freaks unite!

trio

Bridgwater also boasted a great & helpful staff…and a group of students who were serious about carved oak. Ringers Jon Bayes http://www.riversjoinery.co.uk/ and Richard Francis http://www.flyingshavings.co.uk/ represented England well… I barely had to teach this crew any English terms at all. Like rabbet/”re-bate” or clamp/cramp. The first group insisted that some are clamps, and I insisted that you’re British dammit, call it a cramp.

One thing I was missing was old oak carvings, and the students took care of that. Joel, hewer extroidinaire, scouted out several churches and even arranged for us to get in them after 5 pm…130-odd steps up a circular staircase afforded us a heck of a view of somerset. One pulpit wasn’t oak, I said I wanted my money back. we saw three churches, carved pulpits, bench ends, a chest, and who knows what else. This pulpit is oak:

pulpit 1

Tim came down from County Durham, and lent me binocs and a good bird book…I had a simple little bird guide book with me…I saw some nice birds, some well, some fleeting. This’ll be the only time you’ll hear the word tit on this blog. As in blue tit, long tailed tit, willow tit, etc. I didn’t see a great tit. Then of course the day we drove over/down to Heathrow we saw several kites, much larger than I thought…musta seen 6 of them. No pictures, highway driving…

blue tit 2
juvy blue tit
blue tit
even better, juvy blue tit in oak

I was invited by Robin Wood to be part of Spoonfest, but that would have meant another week & 1/2 away from home. So, another time. Thanks to all who made my trip a success, especially the ones who waited at home. Why did it take me so long to get hip to Skype?

skype
here’s what it looked like each night

More photos here:

 

here come old flat-top

Boxes. we use them around here for everything – textiles, papers, stuff in the kitchen like candles, batteries, phone chargers, books, collections of shells & bones, who knows what else… I’ve made lots of boxes like these. Lots.

I hate the phrase “think outside of the box” I often think of the song “Little boxes, little boxes” and of course, “a box of rain to ease the pain…” (whatever that means)

I finished one of these desk boxes for the video (it will come out when Lie-Nielsen puts it out, is the answer to “when will it be out?”) last week. I have another 2/3 done. I have to shoot it for real soon…but these two quick shots give you an idea of what it looks like.

done box

done box inside

 

BUT while we shot that process, I added in some “regular” box stuff too. So in that case, I built this medium-size oak box, with pine lid & bottom. Maybe 15″ wide, 12″ deep. 6″-7″ high. (the blog title is to distinguish this box from the slant-lidded desk above)

here come old flat top

flat top side

 

And then there’s the Alaskan yellow cedar box I made while teaching up there.

yellow cedar

ayc detail

 

I’m over-run with the things, I’m going to photograph some, and post them for sale soon. Meanwhile – there’s several chances for students to come learn how to make your own.

First is a 2-day version – in this Lie-Nielsen class, we’ll bypass splitting the log into boards and go right to carving, then joinery (rabbets & pegs) – it’s coming up in early June. We have spaces left, so if you have just a little time, this is a good choice. It will be a small class, so we’ll have some chances to get some details in… https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/61  I brought up some outrageously good white oak last week – I might even make another box just because the wood is so good.

The full-blown, split-the-log-make-the-boards-then-make-the-box version is a 5-day class. http://www.newenglishworkshop.co.uk/  In England, it’s happening twice – July 13-17 in Warwickshire College then the next week, July 20-24th at Bridgwater College in Somerset. I’m hoping to get out & see some oak carvings while in England, it’s been a while since I was there. 10 years…

carved pulpit detail
carved pulpit detail

Back in the States, the full-bore class is happening in October at Marc Adams’ school – http://www.marcadams.com/ Oct 19-23. My first visit here…

“Here come old flat-top, he come groovin up slowly…”

In between times

It’s coming up on a year since I left my job as the joiner at Plimoth Plantation. While I was there, I often taught workshops during my vacations and other time off. Lie-Nielsen, Roy Underhill’s place, CVSWW, Country Workshops – but in that format, I only had a few weeks (or weekends) each year available to travel & teach.

froe
Matt riving w Plymouth CRAFT last weekend

 

When I announced I was leaving the museum, I got offers to come teach in various places, in addition to the usual outfits. When I arranged my schedule last winter, I had no idea how it would work – on paper it seemed fine, once or twice a month, travel to teach. One long, maybe one short class each month. Now I’m in the midst of it, and while it’s great fun (Alaska! Are you kidding?) what I didn’t compute is the time between to unpack, decompress and then turn around & get ready for the next one.

matanuska trip

I’m not complaining, just saying “here’s why there’s little on the blog these days…”

I was thinking, I’m home now for 3 1/2 weeks, before I head down for to Roy’s. Except this coming weekend I’m at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, then next weekend I have a one-day presentation with the Plymouth CRAFT group, then the weekend after that, I’m back at my 2nd home this summer – Lie-Nielsen for making a carved box. THEN, I have to hit the road & go to North Carolina!

mortising from on high
Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking

The plan is to do some woodworking tomorrow & shoot some pictures. I’ll let you know what happens.

How am I supposed to get some birding in? I haven’t even had time to ID this warbler from Maine…

warbler

Alaska post

 matanuska trip

I’ve written before about how I consider myself pretty lucky. Mostly healthy, wonderful family, nice home – that sort of thing. On top of that, I get to make my living doing interesting and challenging work that I love. And, I have fallen into what I often call the Hand-Tool Circus (sometimes I call it the Lie-Nielsen circus, or the Roy Underhill Circus, the Lost Art Press circus, etc) – it’s a loosely defined band of traveling woodworkers who get to go places and teach classes. Traveling is hard, leaving the kids at home – there’s lots to it that’s like work; the planning, packing, unpacking…organizing the next trip – but it sure beats working for a living…

 This circus has taken me to some interesting places, and has introduced me to a cadre of new friends far and wide. So now you can tell this post is about Alaska. The Alaska Creative Woodworkers is a group of woodworkers, centered around Anchorage – and they bring woodworkers from down south here to teach various classes. This past week was my turn, following in the steps of Roy Underhill, Chris Schwarz, Mary May, Chris Becksvoort, and more…

 Chris and Roy had told me that these folks treat you very well. That was an understatement to say the least. Great hosts, great facility in the shop of club member Don Fall, and they leave out no detail. I had time off between the two classes, and had volunteers wanting to show me Alaska. Jonathan Snyder (blog here: http://www.alaskawoodworker.com/ ) made sure I got to every birding spot in the area, and other club members Tony Strupulis and Mike Weidmar each took a whole day to show me around, one on a whale watch out of Seward, in Resurrection Bay, the other for a ride up the Matanuska-Susitna region, looking at the Matanuska glacier and the formation of some of those mountains and valleys. This particular ride was in style, a 1941 Cadillac being the means of conveyance. An earlier trip was in a 1949 Ford Convertible. Alaskans think 50 degrees Farenheit is warm.

mike W 1941 caddy
In the Cadillac…a great car to drive after a war

 Everywhere you look there is an eye popping view, to my sea-level eyes anyway….and the woodworking! Yellow cedar for the carved boxes, and nice slow growing birch – more dense than the birch I know down in New England…for spoons. plus I was able to harvest some bark to practice learning how to work with that. (Thanks though to Jarrod for my first batch of bark and the inspiration and instruction in the first place.)

fresh bark from Alaska birch (Betaluna neoalaskana)

 

Eagles, ducks, geese, songbirds, owls (heard-only) grouse, cranes, shorebirds – I was really there just before peak migration, but got to see some birds I only know in winter plumage. And some I had either never seen, or had never seen well (also couldn’t get photos of them – the varied thrush, boreal chickadee, white winged crossbill.)

 

Moose (Jonathan found my first moose about 7 minutes into my visit, in the parking lot of a defunct club where ladies used to “dance” if you know what I mean. This is a family blog, so I’ll leave it at that) – Dall sheep, mountain goats, Stellar’s sea lions, sea otters -grey whales, Dall’s porpoises, musta been more.

strip moose
strip club moose, aka City Moose

 I read some travel guide about Alaska that should have been called “There’s Lots of Ways to Die in Alaska” – let’s see, you can walk out in the mud, get stuck, then drown as the quickly rising tide comes in to bury you. Fall in a glacial crevasse. Et by a bear. (The bear warnings are really something – don’t surprise the bear by walking around a blind corner – but the woods I walked were nothing but blind corners. I got spooked by a squirrel. You’re supposed to clap, sing, or ring bells as you walk. Makes birding tricky) You can get Stomped by a moose. Avalanche. Oh, yes, Anchorage is on a huge fault, and in 1964 was the site of North America’s largest-ever earthquake. Nobody said anything about just plain ol’ getting lost in the wilderness. Falling off some mountain road, tumbling thousands of feet.

lotsa ways to die

 

 

Ah, yes – falling in a crevasse – at least there’s little decay. Good for archaeology.

 

 

PF by Jonathan

See? It says “move cautiously along creeks, on blind corners and in heavily vegetated areas” which is all of the Alaska I saw…yup, there’s lots of ways to die in Alaska. But I’ll go push my luck again someday. It was great. Thanks to all my new Alaska friends. I’ll always remember this trip

 DSC_0489

Next stop – home of the circus, Lie-Nielsen.

 

some leftover photos & more

I took today off, which means I only did woodworking for half the day so far. A few things rambling around during the last week. We made it out to the beach the other day for the first time since the winter hit hard.

first beach trip

The usual beach-combing, sand-building, and scenery-viewing. Then on the walk back, Daniel noticed this skull. I put the keys in the shot for scale.

skull scale

My what lovely teeth you had…really small, but fierce teeth. I woulda brought it home for the skull & bones collection, but it was still fleshy in places…

what teeth you had

 

Saw this in the yard today, it was cause for excitement.

first one

 

The view up the river, no ice.

up

 

 

I finished this bowl yesterday & today. Mostly finished, I’ll carved some stuff along its rim. Butternut, (Juglans cinerea)

bowl

Here’s one way I hold it for final shaping of the rims’ edge. Just some scrap blocks inside the bowl, to keep the vise from pressing against the upper edge.

trimming sides of bowl

Like the spoons, I lean towards odd-ball shapes. This one’s a bent limb, which results in the pith being off-center. So I made the centerline of the bowl ever further out-of-whack. That results in some unusual shapes. Which can be good, or can be fatal. Worked this time, I think.

top view bowl

If you are at all interested in hewing bowls, two things. I’m teaching it this August at Lie-Nielsen, https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/71

and otherwise, you might if you haven’t already look at Dave Fisher’s new blog about his carvings. Dave’s stuff is really inspiring. https://davidffisherblog.wordpress.com/

One other Lie-Nielsen thing – we have decided to try something new(ish) for my carving class this June. Usually we rive and plane some oak, and carve patterns based on the 17th-century stuff. This time, we’re attempting to carve and assemble a small box.

So instead of riving the stuff, it will be riven & prepped ahead of time. Then we’ll concentrate on carving and cutting & assembling. 2 days – whew. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/61

I’ll be doing the whole-soup-to-nuts version of the carved box at Marc Adams’ school as well as the New English Workshops in England. I’ll write in detail about those workshops later this week.

http://www.marcadams.com/available-classes/handskills/1679/

http://www.newenglishworkshop.co.uk/

 

 

 

I don’t know how to juggle for real

but I do it with oak all the time. I have three active oak projects going right now. Active means I’m working on them all at once. A couple more are semi-active. Like the desk box, that got back-burner-ed for a video shoot this spring. I’ll save the final assembly for the cameras.

desk

This chest has been around a long time, but it’s going forward now at a regular clip.

chest test fit

Its purpose is to illustrate in the joinery book how to make & fit drawers. Hence, “chest with drawers.” The front is mostly pinned, the sides are test-fitted, I have to finish cutting and fitting the till, and a little more work on the rear frame. Mortises are cut, need to cut the tenons; plow grooves, etc. I’d say this chest is about 8 or 10 hours’ work from final assembly, including the floor. Then comes the drawers. And lid.

0150f6be98e598edd44863c50b117359c1d951fc43
rear rails & stiles


A related chest with drawers is the model for the joined chest class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. I’ve cut the front frame, and started the carving the other day. It too will have 2 drawers, there are drawer rails not yet fitted in this photo…

0164467a7303b479f98230e6795c47df029382fa91

01f68b60d0e7fe74fde7f1c6503f033df810b0d842

I used to like to start the day with large movements, like planing. Then I’d save the carving for late in the day, when I wanted to take it easy. But here in the (walk-out) basement, the light is best early in the morning – so I carved yesterday AM. But it’s a lousy way to begin your day. Too tight a posture. So this carving got left for later. and today I planed and mortised the front rails for the NEXT joinery project!  

01932825158fc12e9f6ecbe6481a0fbfe5621dea8f

A cupboard for Plimoth Plantation. This one will have a joined front fitted to a board carcass. No decoration to speak of, other than chamfers, etc. So the opening in the middle is for a door. Below are off-cuts from the panels in this cupboard; 10″ long, they have a limited use. Usually they would just get tossed, but these will get planed to 1/4″ thickness for drawer parts for the desk box. Good use for such wide, flat stuff that is otherwise firewood. 

01697ef366d42ac1bef0d216d5f3238aaf2808638e

Next week I hope to move all of these over to the shop I’m doing my photography in, and get some good pictures going. Goal is to have the first chest with drawers and the cupboard all assembled this time next week. we’ll see. 

 

I didn’t mean to do this…

desk

I didn’t set out to make this at all. I only saw the original once, back in the early 1990s when I was researching the furniture made in 17th century Braintree, Massachusetts, by William Savell and his sons John & William.  But then recently I was given (thanks Michael) some really wide red oak bolts…so  I rived & planed up stuff & decided to tackle this form. (10″ high, 22″ wide, and about 16″ deep) I had built one once but I think it had no insides, I forget.

In the photo above, I have test-fitted the fixed top board, it will be trimmed after attaching it with wooden pins. It won’t get installed until the hinges are attached to it. First things first.

Many English boxes are just plain inside, but New England ones often (usually) have a till inside. The Savell shop had tills and drawers inside theirs, even their flat-top boxes like this one, I forget right now if there were drawers under the till nearest the camera:

Braintree box interior
Braintree box interior

It’s a particularly stupid arrangement – if you stuff things in the box, then you can’t pull the drawers out. But it has an obsessive compulsive appeal.

A desk/slant-lid box almost always is divided up inside. This one features two tills, a long open tray in the rear, and four drawers up above. One of the tills, closed – English oak for the till lid:

till closed

 

Same till, open:

till open

The original is missing its drawers, maybe they were cubbies w/o drawers –

savell-desk-box

but mine will have small oak drawers. I just ordered the dovetail hinges for it, and some curtain rings for the drawer pulls. When I get this far on a new project, I always wish I could make the 2nd one first – just made some trial & error sort of mistakes. Nothing major, but next time….

Now while I wait for the hardware from the blacksmith, I’ll plane up the board for the hinged lid, then I can go back to the joined chests I was making.

Spoons & more for sale here: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/spoons-baskets-bowls-for-sale-march-2015/