photos from this week

We got out early on the vernal equinox, to see the sunrise over the trees on the riverbank. While we waited, these red-breasted mergansers came along, chasing the fish along the river.  The other fish-chaser, great blue heron left the scene, water was too high for him.

The sun hit the workshop before it hit us down at the river.

Inside, I’m a sucker for raking light.Now that I finished the chest with drawers, this one is next. Needs some trimming here & there, and fitting the lid. Then when someone buys it, initials carved in the blank area on the center muntin.

Here’s the first 2 (of 8) panels I carved for a bedstead I am making for a customer.

A couple of boxes underway. The front of this one was a carving sample for my recent class in North House Folk School.

Here I’m working on cutting the rabbets for another, smaller box. 

Here it is, test-fitted. Next is to make the till parts, and assemble it.

we went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston the other day. the kids are studying Greek myths, and we went to look at Greek art, mostly sculpture & pottery. I saw patterns everywhere. I probably hadn’t been in those galleries since the 1980s. Amazing stuff.

rear post for a wainscot chair

The next couple of weeks will feature some chairmaking here. As I said earlier, I’m revisiting the ladderback chairs I began my woodworking career with…I shaved some posts & rungs and chopped slat mortises – but shot no pictures. But today, I had some wainscot chair work to do; and what a world of difference. I had to fashion one hewn rear post for a wainscot chair like this:

wainscot chair, side view

The “cant” or “rake” to the rear post is hewn, not bent like in Alexander’s ladderback. This post starts out as a split billet 3″ x 4″ x 48″. That’s a lot of oak. I hewed it oversized; a few weeks ago I worked one and it was too close to the finished size. When I was done hewing and planing, it came up “scant” – i.e. too small in cross-section to match the first one. Here, you see the template laying on the riven and hewn piece:

Thinking about the JA chairs – this one billet had enough wood to maybe make 3 or 4 posts for a JA ladderback. This is a rare case where I work primarily on the tangential face first. I want the front face of these posts to be the radial surface (it’s going to be carved, & I like carving that face better than this one). So the cant gets laid out on the growth-ring plane.

Once I hewed and planed that face pretty flat, I scribed the template and began to hew the shape. The front is easy enough to hew, because of the way you’re cutting down the grain. In this photo, I have the front faces planed, and I’m cutting the thickness of the post above the seat. I decided to saw, rather than split this, so I can use the piece that’s coming off – it will become either a stretcher or one of the carved figures that is applied to the side of the chair. I made a relief cut at the seat height, and am sawing down to that cut. In the photo, this saw cut is nearly done. Then the stuff below the seat will get hewn away, there’s nothing worth saving there, so hewing is quicker than sawing. Easier too. You can see relief cuts there too, I stood the piece up on its top end and hewed down to the mid-point. 

Cleaning up these rear surfaces is pretty easy. They don’t have to be dead-flat or true. I shim under the end, and shove the post against my bench hook/planing stop. A holdfast keeps it in place. I’m only planing as far as the plane will fit. It gets close to, but not up to, the angled spot where the post leans back. I skew the plane to get close…

Then switch to a spoke shave. it’s one of the few times I use this tool in joiner’s work. That’ll sneak right up to that junction.

I have to let it dry out a couple of weeks, then I can cut the joinery in it & continue on with the chair. I have another to start in the meantime, so there will be more chair work on the blog soon.

chest with drawers; pulls and more

First off, nice going to those who pitched in to help that Vermont school teacher with the fundraiser to buy spoon tools. They met their goal quite easily, I think thanks to you blog readers here. These on-screen connections can be alienating sometimes, but at times like this one, it truly is a community feeling. I really do appreciate the feedback I get from this blog, it means a lot.


Tomorrow I’ll deliver this chest with drawers to the Fuller Craft Museum for the exhibition about Plymouth CRAFT. http://fullercraft.org/event/living-traditions-the-handwork-of-plymouth-craft/

I did the bulk of the last-minute junk last week, and a good thing too. Just been knocked out with a flu-ish thing for 5 days. All 4 of us have had it in various forms – so it’s felt like a long time since we’ve had our heads above water.

After watching all the bowl turners at North House a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to come home & turn bowls. But instead, I turned drawer pulls in white oak.

The drove them through the hole I bored in the drawer front, and split the tenon with a chisel.

and drove an oak wedge into the resulting split.

Here is the wedged tenon, just prior to trimming.

These pulls are about 1 1/4″ in diameter.

I made some adjustments to the drawer runners. These things are always fussy…they fit into notches in the stiles, and often I toe-nail through them into the stile. You can see one of those nails out at the rear stile in this shot:

Here you can see one of the drawer runners in the drawer opening above, and the groove in the drawer side below. When all goes well, this is a nice way for a drawer to slide. Especially these heavy oak drawers. There will be a pine panel behind these drawers, but that will have to wait til the exhibit is over. Mid-June I think. After Greenwood Fest…

we’ll put some bleachers out in the sun and have it on highway 61

I only have a few photos for this post – I was too busy to shoot much…

I just got back from teaching two classes at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. http://www.northhouse.org/index.htm   Being thrown into an immersion experience like that at North House reminds me of my beginnings at Country Workshops in the 1980s.

One focus at North House is community, and it is quite palpable. The legendary pizza night, centered around the large wood-fired oven, and finely honed through years of practice is a memorable experience. The classes I was there to teach were part of “Wood Week” which as you can imagine means all the classes offered that week (8 in all) were woodworking. Other disciplines at North House include fiber arts, blacksmithing, food, boatbuilding and more.

All the students in my first class were named Tom. I think. Made it easier…

With three classes at the first session, and five the next, there was no shortage of inspiration, nor of comrades. The evenings were spent in large and small groups exploring spoon and bowl carving, looking at and trying out new tools, techniques, benches and materials. It seems that almost everyone (except me) also plays a musical instrument, so the spoon carving circles were on the periphery of the old-timey music circles. There was much overlap. The best nights ran much later than I could handle.

All the while, Lake Superior was right there, outside the shop windows, and lapping at the courtyard between the buildings. It’s a pretty big lake, I hear. Looked it.

I’m liking these large-group gatherings. Last year I went to three of them, Greenwood Fest in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Spoonfest in Edale, UK and Täljfest at Sätergläntan in Sweden. This one had a smaller crowd, but that lent it an intimacy that was nice. I still missed stuff – I got no photographs of the other classes, and few of my own.

Jarrod trying out Dawson Moore’s Spoon Mule:

Tom Dengler kept distracting me with his woodenware:

one of the oak carvings the students did…

I caught up with some old friends, and made some new. Like the other events, this one is run by many hands, including a group of young interns. Nice to see these young people exploring some type of creative outlet involving natural materials. There were a smattering of young people in the classes too, but no group gets higher marks than Spoonfest for adding youth and women to the woodworking community.

These creatures were more common than squirrels.

I had a day off early on, and took a long walk in a state park about half-an-hour away. If this tree were closer to the school, someone would have nabbed it by now…

North House is celebrating their twentieth year – get on their mailing list so you can be a part of their 2nd-double-decade.

Some of the many people there, apologies for not including everyone – there was a lot happening:

Jarrod Dahl, https://www.instagram.com/jarrod__dahl/

Roger Abrahamson,  https://www.instagram.com/rogerabrahamson/

Fred Livesay,  https://www.instagram.com/hand2mouthcrafts/

Phil Odden & Else Bigton  http://www.norskwoodworks.com/

Harley Refsal  http://www.northhouse.org/courses/courses/instructor.cfm/iid/86

Dawson Moore  https://www.instagram.com/michigansloyd/

Tom & Kitty Latane https://www.facebook.com/thomas.latane

Tom Dengler https://www.instagram.com/twodengler/

Jane Mickelborough’s Folding Spoons

The oak furniture I make is based on 17th-century examples made in my general neighborhood – the first batch of chests & boxes I learned about were made maybe 10 miles from where I grew up. My spoons are a different story – literally. I learned spoon carving from Jögge & Wille Sundqvist, and Drew Langsner…so my spoons are rooted in the Swedish style – as are many other modern-day spoon carvers.

One thing I keep in mind when looking at inviting instructors for Greenwood Fest is simple – I would like to spend time getting to know these people, and learning woodworking from them. (I get to do the former, but I’m too busy to really learn much during the event…)

jane

I met Jane Mickelborough last summer at Spoonfest and Täljfest – and was very happy when she said she’d come to Greenwood Fest. Jane is currently engrossed in making some decidedly-non-Swedish style spoons. Her recent work is based on historical spoons from Brittany, where she lives with her husband Peter. I wanted to know more about her spoons, and how she got on this Breton-folding-spoon-kick, so I asked her. I thought readers might like it too, so below is a series of questions I sent Jane and she kindly answered more than I asked. Jane will be teaching a 2-day class Carve a Hinged Spoon, and demonstrating wax inlaid decoration in the pre-fest courses https://www.greenwoodfest.org/course-details

 
PF: Somewhere along the line in your woodworking, you learned spoon-carving. Then began to see/study/copy particular spoons that were historically made in Breton. How did this come about? Was it thought-out, or stumbled-upon?

JM: I stumbled-upon spoon-carving by complete accident about five months before the first Spoonfest. I found the famous Martin Hazell on Facebook (via a friend of a friend) having known him in real life about 30 years before. And on his site were these amazing wooden spoons! I was immediately smitten and determined to have a go myself. I haven’t got fed-up with them yet. I only discovered Breton spoons quite a lot later. People at markets would tell me about Breton wedding spoons, and I (wrongly) assumed these would be like the highly-ornamental but essentially non-functional spoons that were made in Wales to commemorate a wedding. So I ignored them. When i finally took a look at them I was completely blown-away by what was an incredibly strong, popular and local tradition, and by the wonderful spoons themselves.

antique-folding-spoon

PF:  Care to tell us something about these spoons? I know you’re going to present some of your research, etc when we’re in Plymouth, but how about a teaser? I know you’ve learned to recognize regional variations in spoons…

JM: Breton peasants had precious few paid holidays, a very monotonous diet but an obvious love for a good party. Everyone would turn-out for a local wedding – more than a thousand guests over three days was common. If you could afford to, you contributed some food or drink, while those that could not were nonetheless welcome. Providing a thousand spoons was out of the question in the days before hire companies and party organisers. Each guest was expected come dressed-up in his or her best clothes and to bring their own spoon (which would always have been made of wood) and it appears that the tradition of decorated spoons arose from the very human desire to show off! These so-called wedding spoons were specifically made to be used as party spoons, spoons for best, or show-off spoons and they are highly decorated and often inlaid with coloured wax or even pewter.

folding-3

folding-2

Nearly all Breton decorated spoons are made of box wood and something like half of the existing spoons have hinges. These two facts may be related, as box doesn’t grow well here in wet and windy Brittany. You can make a spoon using smaller pieces of less-than-perfect wood if you make it in two halves (this I have tried). Sprigs of box were the foliage that Breton peasants took to church on Palm Sunday (palms don’t grow well here either). The story goes that these box sprigs would be put into the roadside banks on the way home after church, so that they would grow into more box bushes. Frankly, this doesn’t sound like an ideal propagating technique to me, but who knows now?

Before the first world war, not many Breton peasants travelled very far from home and this resulted in very localised styles in everyday stuff like clothing, music, dance, household furniture and even spoons. There are two (possibly three) main regional styles of breton decorated spoons that can be fairly easily recognised. What is beyond question is that by the 19th century they were mainly made by very skilled craftsmen who tended to make sets of near-identical spoons in a local style, rather than just making occasional one-offs. I’m currently trying to track-down records of some of the actual spoon makers, to clarify this, but this is going to take me quite a while yet…

PF: Can you describe some of your recording methods when you study these in collections? I know how to record furniture pieces, but what information are you specifically looking at in spoons? Tracings, templates, measurements?

JM: Basic information like measurements and a description are available from the museums housing the collections. I mainly rely on my trusty iPhone to take photos from every angle so that I can make observations on the spoon shapes and decorations in my own time. Museum reserve collections are rarely kept in over-heated buildings and it can be a very cold day’s work to get a collection looked-at and photographed.

folding-5

folding-4

Getting my hands on the spoons allows me to see exactly how the hinges are made, how well they work, why they sometimes break, and the modifications that were made to get the spoon to fold properly (or indeed, to fold at all!). There’s a satisfaction in seeing that someone before me has already made ALL the mistakes I’ve made while trying to get a spoon to fold, plus some mistakes I haven’t tried yet. You really can’t get this from pictures.

Seeing them up-close has also given me some clues about the decorating techniques that are too subtle to see in pictures. What happens when the inlay wax is overheated, exactly how some of the chip-carving has been done, how the metal inlay has been applied… Its also possible to see the subtle signs of wear, that confirm that many of these spoons were regularly used for eating. Then comes the trial & error in making both folding spoons & wax inlay.

folding-1

PF: Want to tell us something about the challenges in these related but distinct spoon carving disciplines?

JM: Oh my – take a look online at recipes for old-fashioned sealing wax. There are hundreds, and no two are the same. I had a long chat with a friend who is an antique dealer and restorer who gave me some ideas as well. Then I started stinking the house out with melting various combinations of wax, rosin, shellac, turpentine and different pigments – I hate to think what our fire-insurance people would have thought of it all! Just like making home-made milk paint, I have found that different pigments affect the resulting wax in different ways, but even this is not consistent. Factors like how fast the ingredients are melted, or whether it’s stirred during or after melting seem to be important too. The waxes I’m currently using work quite well, but I haven’t nearly finished experimenting yet, but I suspect I never will. This is definitely an art rather than a science! It turns out that pewter inlay is a common technique used by musical instrument makers here in Brittany and I have been able to talk to a few of them about this technique. I still haven’t tried it seriously, but I’m saving it for a later day. One thing at at time!

 

here’s Jane’s Instagram feed – https://www.instagram.com/janespoons/ 

revisiting an old favorite

I’ve been trying to finish off this chest with 2 drawers lately. I’m close, but have to go to North House Folk School soon, so the last bits will be in 2 weeks. Today I spent making the last 12′ of moldings – out of a total of over 45 feet! Rabbet plane first…

rabbet-before-molding

…followed by hollows & rounds….

round-for-hollow

Late in the day I still had some daylight. I have been using the last 30 or 45 minutes each day to hew some spoons for evening carving…but today I split some reject joinery-oak and started shaving the rear posts for some ladderback chairs. Must be because I’ve been thinking of Drew Langsner lately…

Here you can see the chest with a couple of clamps holding the drawer’s moldings in place. Shaving the chair posts was like old times…
shaving-posts

Here’s the inspiration – one of the last chairs from Jennie Alexander’s hand…and Drew’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop. I had to look up a few things to remind me of what I was doing.

shaving-rear-post-ladder-back-chair

The last time I made these chairs was some shrunk-down versions for when the kids were small, December 2009. These chairs are put away in the loft now, outgrown…

kids-chairs-2

kids-chair-frame

 

I hope to bend the posts Friday, then leave them in the forms while I’m away. Hopefully there will be some chairmaking going on in March…

 

 

 

Passing the Baton: Country Workshops & the Maine Coast Craft School

meet me in the country

I keep hearing bits and snatches of news about things down near Marshall, N.C. – home of Country Workshops. In his newsletter from the last part of 2016, Drew Langsner mentioned that things were slowing down. For 2017 there are only 2 tutorials this summer. So I wrote to Drew, asking “Is this it?” “Yup”, came the answer.

Drew showing bowls
Drew showing bowls

End of an era is an understatement. All those years, all those classes, trooping into their house and home. I think it started about 1977 or so. I first went there in 1980, to learn ladderback chairmaking from then-John Alexander. By the mid-80s, I was a regular attendee, and in 1988 a summer intern, ending that season with a large class in timber-framing where we built the “new” barn. Once I got a museum job in the mid-1990s, I didn’t get down to Drew & Louise’s for a while, then went back as an instructor and once a student in 2010. My earlier post about Drew & Louise, and their Country Workshops saga is here https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/how-did-i-get-started-country-workshops-the-langsners-is-how/

This summer will be the end, both of the workshops and the tool store. But Kenneth & Angela Kortemeier,will take up some of where Drew & Louise are leaving off –  their new school, in mid-coast Maine, is starting up the same time Country Workshops is winding down. Kenneth has quite a resume, including  stints as Drew’s intern, and a period living with John Brown making chairs in Wales.

img_0074

dscn9649

Here’s the fledgling website, a new place to watch. http://www.mainecoastcraft.com/  Drew told me that part of what Kenneth & Angela will be doing up there in Maine includes taking over some tool sales involving the great tools by Hans Karlsson and Svante Djarv that Drew has helped bring to the US. And more…

l-r Dave Fisher, Drew Langsner, Louise Langsner

BUT – one other part of this story. This June, Drew & Louise are coming to Plymouth to be our special guests at Greenwood Fest. I’ve asked Drew to put together a slide history of Country Workshops, and they’ll be around for the festival to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. This is a chance to thank them in person for all the work they’ve done for decades. Many green woodworkers in America and beyond can trace their roots to Drew & Louise, even if they don’t know it…