Yesterday’s announcement of the ladderback chair class was a hit. Filled up quickly. We’re toying with the idea of adding a 2nd session some time in 2019. We’ll need to look at schedules to see if Paula, Pret & I have spaces in ours that align with some in the venue. I think Paula will make a waiting list in the mean time.
Right now, I don’t have a lot of classes scheduled for 2019; there’s a couple to be announced in January. And I’ll add some here and there as holes get filled in various schedules. But yesterday I completely forgot to mention we’ve got a spoon carving class coming right up in January. Saturday & Sunday January 19 & 20, with an optional third day on Monday January 21.
That third day is available as a stand-alone; we’re calling it “advanced” but in this case all that means is you’ve gone through the bits about learning knife grips, hatchet work, etc and for this one-day session we’ll be able to concentrate further on spoon shape and design. Most of the work that day will feature natural crooks.
Well. Here goes. 2019 marks my maiden solo voyage in teaching students how to make Jennie Alexander’s ladderback chair. My version of it anyway. We’ll be following the general format I learned from JA and Drew Langsner, who together and separately taught this class for decades. I learned a lot from both of them about this chair; and assisted in classes at both Country Workshops and Alexander’s shop in Baltimore. In the early 1990s I worked with JA on the 2nd edition of the book Make a Chair from a Tree.
Riving, drawknife work, boring with a brace & bit, mortise & tenon joinery, steam-bending. Lots to cover in this class, it’s where I began as a woodworker in 1978.
We’re going to do it as a 6-day class with Plymouth CRAFT, just 6 students in the class. Dates are Friday May 3- Wed May 8th. 6 spots, so if you think you’d like to tackle this (and 6 days of Paula’s lunches) best sign up early.
(Two things – I wrote “solo” but Pret Woodburn will be there to assist much of the time. He just never wants credit for all his helpfulness. And May? – what was I thinking? It’s the pinnacle of the birding year – right after this class, I’m going to Mt Auburn Cemetery to see warblers during their spring migration.)
A few things floating around. The first photo is not mine, nor my work. It’s Dave Fisher’s carved sign, made for Jennie Alexander. Finished just before JA’s death, so now what to do with it? I told Dave to keep it – but he had other ideas. Read on.
Here’s Dave’s story about this sign:
“I carved this sign for Jennie Alexander, author of the seminal book, Make a Chair from a Tree. Since then, the leaves have fallen and the oiled oak has begun to take on a patina. Although Jennie was able to see photos of the finished sign, she passed away before she was able to receive it. After a lot of thought and talking with Jennie’s daughter and others close to her, I’ve decided to auction the sign and donate the money to the recently established Plymouth CRAFT Green Woodworking Scholarship. Learn more about the scholarship here: https://www.plymouthcraft.org/craft-green-woodworking-sch
This scholarship has already received some generous contributions, and they will allow many people over the coming years to participate in Plymouth CRAFT classes and events who would have otherwise been unable to. I think that Jennie would have supported such an idea, especially considering the special relationship between her and Peter Follansbee, one of Plymouth CRAFT’s founders and most active instructors.
I’ll ship the sign to the winner of the auction, then I’ll donate all of the proceeds to The Plymouth CRAFT Scholarship Fund. I will ship outside of the U.S., but will have to add accordingly to the shipping price listed.
The sign is 29 1/2″ x 7 3/4″. The thickness tapers from roughly 1/2″ to 3/4″ from bottom to top as it was radially split from the tree. The back side reveals marks from the riving. White oak — Jennie’s favorite.”
And that brings up Plymouth CRAFT’s new Scholarship Fund. We’ve been kicking around the idea for a while of creating scholarships so those for whom our tuition is a stretch might still have a chance to come to our workshops and events. We’re still working out how to implement it, but it’s now underway. First shot is for Tim Manney’s sharpening class coming up December 15 & 16. Here’s the blurb about applying for the scholarships – https://www.plymouthcraft.org/craft-green-woodworking-sch
And here’s the one about Tim’s class. I think this will be our third time with this class, other than when he’s led Greenwood Fest sessions on sharpening, and it gets better and better. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/an-axe-to-grind
Last for today, I have a new hatchet to try out. It came already sharp, so that’s a plus.
Julia Kalthoff sent me one of her small carving hatchets to see how I like it. (Yes, there was no invoice. I’ll use this hatchet with my students, as I do with hatchets that I have either bought or received over the years from Hans Karlsson, Robin Wood, and Svante Djarv). If I was shopping for a hatchet, I would gladly pay for Julia’s – from what I can tell after only using it briefly, it’s excellent and well worth her asking price. https://www.kalthoffaxes.se/
It feels like a cross between the Hans Karlsson hatchet and Svante Djarv’s “small Viking” hatchet. Thicker than Karlsson’s at the edge, giving it slightly wider bevels. This is similar to Djarv’s in that respect. Curved cutting edge. The specs are on Julia’s site – if I remember right, Beth Moen helped Julia work out the shape and size. All you carvers out there can now add another great axe to your axe-lust-list.
I jumped the gun back here a month or two ago, but recently Plymouth CRAFT announced that there will be no Greenwood Fest in 2019. (to read CRAFT’s notice, here’s the link. It includes a nice video put together by Ben Strano of Fine Woodworking. Thanks to Ben & FWW for that)
We love having that event, and will miss seeing everyone together next spring. Our goal is to bring it back in 2020, and we’ll keep you posted about that as things evolve. Meanwhile we’re planning more workshops than “usual” because we have some time on our hands. Well, in theory we have time on our hands. Paula & I compared notes the other day, and neither of us will see a break for over a month, if then…
There will be more to come. A couple of thoughts – don’t fill your June calendar yet. And, among the planned offerings for next year, we’re thinking of taking on a longer-than-usual class for us, a 5-or-6 day workshop in making the JA chair. (that’s not in June, just so you know…)
But before we can plan that, I have a trip to Australia to prepare for…
The weekend went very well, 10 or so folks making several birch bark cannisters under Jarrod’s tutelage. What amazing material he brought from Wisconsin. We never see birches that large around eastern Massachusetts. They might grow big like that out in the western part of the state, but that’s way out past 495.
After the opening session/slide show/demo, it was time for the students to get involved. Started off making knife sheaths after a demo by Jazmin. She & Jarrod make pretty tidy knife sheaths.
Jarrod distributed the bark, then it was up to the students to suss out where to cut it. “About here?” says Jake.
Some could be de-laminated. Sorta like splitting hickory bark. Just easier.
Mary dove in and started cutting the joints with a chisel. Their first cannisters had triangular joints, later ones had curved joints. The triangular ones were a good place to start.
I semi-Tom-Sawyered Pret into cutting mine. Until I got to decorating it, that is. Then he disappeared in a hurry.
This one’s not mine, mine was more decorated. “tarted up” is the phrase, I think. But this punch impression is my favorite of the pile Jarrod brought.
Here’s a few of the punches, antler I think.
There’s many details, but I’m not writing a how-to. Here, Jarrod demo-ing pegging the white pine bottom in place.
A student’s cannister, bottom & top in place, next up was making the top and bottom bands. I messed mine up today at home, made a two consecutive simple mistakes.
One of Jarrod’s handles. Toggles, he calls them.
here’s Marie’s group shot. Big Steve – where’s your birch work?
He showed some slides of harvesting the bark, and some historical inspiration, as well as examples of his own work. That was followed by a demonstration of cutting the joints for a simple cannister.
Here, using a chisel to stab out the slots and tabs for the connecting joinery.
I know from experience that wrapping your head around the layout of this joint is no joke. Here, he’s limbering the bark up for squeezing it so he can slip the tabs through the slots. Or whatever you call those bits.
Now to do it so all the components slide through in turn.
The body of the cannister fitted, a joined outside, and an overlapping liner slid inside.
I saw Jarrod make one of these, maybe a 20-minute demo, the year we first met. Since then, I’ve always wanted to delve more deeply into this aspect of green woodworking. So I’ve waited for this class for a long time. I greatly appreciate that Jarrod & Jazmin have traveled all this way; and have brought something new to us at Plymouth CRAFT. Looking forward to the hands-on part, starting tomorrow.
First – some business announcements – I planned on assembling one of my JA-ladderback chairs today. I only got half of it done, but had a good excuse. Pret, Paula & I spent the morning exploring details about Greenwood Fest 2019 – yup, you heard me right – it’s official, mostly. There will be GWF19. We pretty much knew there would be, but we actually all said it out loud today.
Some workshop offerings – then the woodworking part. There’s one or two openings in the spoon carving class coming up Saturday & Sunday Aug 11/12 with Plymouth CRAFT. A semi-new venue for us in Plymouth, the Wildlands Trust building on Long Pond Rd. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/spoon-carving
Same venue in September 14-16 for Jarrod Dahl’s Birch Bark Cannister class. That’s going to be a great class. I have had a 15-minute lesson from Jarrod on them once, so I’m looking forward to learning more about this material, and these ingenious containers.
Now – on to chairmaking. It’s been about 25 years since I made these chairs with any regularity. In that time, I have changed the way I make most any piece of furniture; and coming back to these chairs is funny. Things I used to sweat over are nothing to me now, and the parts I struggle with today I used to apparently do with some proficiency.
Slat mortising – chopping the narrow mortises in the rear posts for the bent slats. I remember first learning how to chop these from the book (MACFAT for short) back in 1978. Sitting on a low bench, the posts pinned between 3 pegs and a wedge, and driving the mortise chisel mostly with shoulder pressure. More like digging a mortise than chopping it.
Since then, I’ve chopped so many mortises in joined furniture that I can’t see the point of not using a mallet and banging away at it. One of the last emails I got from Alexander asked “how do you hold the posts when slat-mortising?” The answer, never given, is I now hold the chair post on the workbench, either with holdfasts or clamps. And chop the mortise while standing, using a mallet. JA got up off the low bench at some point too, I know in the DVD the post is clamped on the workbench.
JA’s slats are incredibly thin, about 1/8” mortises. She was always pushing to get the chair parts reduced as much as possible. I know those are plenty strong enough, but I like the slats a little more stout. To me, the thin ones feel a little uncomfortable in handling. My chisel, which is English, is 3 1/2-sixteenths. Must be some metric dimension…so I’m making a chair that I know JA would call “wooden.” It’s not a compliment!
After mortising, I shave the parts round-ish from the octagons that I had in the bending form and mortising steps. Spokeshave work, at the shaving horse. This work requires a lot of “feel” – knocking off corners of corners, etc.
I use a JA-designed rack to test the rear posts’ positions in the finished chair. This helps to see where to bore the mortises.
Alexander’s chair is built out of order – the sides are assembled first, then the rear and front section are bored and fitted to do the final assembly. Most post-and-rung chairs were/are build front and back first, then tied together by the side assemblies. My large turned chair I have underway will be done this way, so you’ll see that sequence in contrast to this JA method.
The reasoning for making the sides first is that is the direction of the most stress the chair experiences. So the front and rear rungs will just slightly intersect these side rungs, pinning them in place. A double-dose of “belt & suspenders” construction, on top of the wet/dry joint that holds it all together to begin with. After using the rack to “see” the orientation, then I propped the posts in the vise for boring. A long bit extender helps to see the angle I’m boring at, and a level taped to it helps keep things aligned as well.
I have a bit-depth guide clamped onto the bit extender too. Stanley #47 bit depth stop. It goes “twangggg” when it hits the right depth.
Once two posts were bored, I shaved the tenons on 3 rungs and knocked that section together. Then repeat. Then quit. Tomorrow is another day.
I’m really enjoying these ladderbacks, it’s so much fun to explore what for me was my beginnings as a woodworker 40 years ago. I had been planning to delve in this work this year, and talked with Jennie Alexander about it a lot. Then her death a few weeks ago really spurred me on. The ones I’m making now are already sold, but later this month I’m planning on taking orders for them if anyone’s interested. I’ll write details about that later in August, after a trip to begin sorting out JA’s shop.
On that subject, we posted a notice on Jennie’s site that we’ll keep everyone updated when we know more about the upcoming edition of the chair book, as well as ordering information for the DVD. Once we know what’s what, you will too. I’ll post it on JA’s site as well as here and everywhere else we can think of. http://www.greenwoodworking.com/