I’m really not a wood-collector

I can’t be a wood hoarder (or collector) – I don’t have room. But for someone who claims to not collect wood, I sure spent a lot of time lately gathering it. Much of my wood of choice is green wood. If your eyes get bigger than your stomach for green wood, you end up with stuff that goes bad one way or the other. Some green wood rots, like birch for spoons. Some gets insects if you don’t get the bark off. Like oak. Here’s former spoon wood that never got made:

Winter is the easiest time for a green woodworker; no insects to invade the stashed timber. I have this pile of riven oak bolts standing outside my shop; this time of year there’s no hurry to deal with them. These are between 5 and 6 feet long, a few shorter sections in there too. Most is oak, a few are hickory that just came in this week. 

I have started to split them up and rough plane them one by one. Removing the sapwood and the bark is critical, that’s where the creatures get in. I have some joined furniture coming up – 2 joined stools, a chest of drawers and a wainscot chair. But then I need a place to store the planed oak bits…here’s a small stack up in the edge of the loft. I’ve glued the ends so they don’t check. I often write the date on them too, helps me keep track of what’s what. These are drawer parts and frame stock for a chest of drawers that’s on my list. The chair rungs behind them are a bit too wiggly to be good enough; but too good to burn. For now…

Before most of that oak work, I have two large pieces to build for the Old House in Cutchogue, Long Island out of white pine. A settle that’s essentially 5 feet square and a dresser that’s 6 feet wide and 7 feet tall. Like much early pine furniture, the originals that we studied to base these on were made from wide white pine boards. The settle for instance – the narrow parts are 15” wide. The uprights are from an 18” board.

This week I went to visit a friend of mine to get some of this white pine. We had to sort through a lot of pine boards, because there were too many 24-26” wide boards and we didn’t want to cut those down to 15” stuff. An interesting problem to have – boards that are too wide! I couldn’t leave all those two-footers behind, so a couple came here to be future chest lids. On the left is one of the settle’s uprights – it’s about 18″ wide, the board beside it is maybe 24″ wide. One or two small knots in the settle piece, the other board has none. 

I pulled one down from my loft that I’d been saving for a couple years, and cut it for a chest here in the house that has been wanting a lid for a while. So I can stash one board where that came from. But clearly it’s time to sort and clean out the loft and use it for real storage, not dead storage.

The next day found me helping some friends sawing out white pine boards, and some of them came back here too. These are green, just sawn. So their storage is easy, outside, stickered and forgotten til next year. Some 20” one inch boards, and one 2” thick plank; about 12 feet long. I’m in the midst of covering this small stack with leftover boards from building the shop. 

Then back to the first stop, where now there was a section of green hickory up for grabs. I split some out, about 6’ long. Chair parts, basket rims and handles. This needs pretty immediate attention, hickory has a lousy shelf life, and is best worked green. A detour, but a fun one. 

I disassembled my lathe to make room for all this oversized work; just finishing up the bedstead now, then will begin work on the pine pieces. You can see how tight it is in there. The long rails are just seen by the through tenons in the foot board’s posts. 

Here’s the wedged through tenon. After this photo, the wedges got trimmed a little, the tenon got chamfered on its corners.

After these large pieces, I’ll re-assemble the lathe. By then, it’ll be spring and I’ll start travelling and teaching. Better get to it.

Advertisements

A new red oak log

No matter how busy I am, when the right log comes along, I try to hop on it. Our friend John Scags had a great red oak that I knew would not be there in 4 weeks when I get back from my trip. So even though I’m too busy to think straight, I took the time today to split open this log. I had John crosscut a couple sections; one five feet long, the other 3 1/2 feet. I even got some stuff from the “butt swell” that I had planned on discarding.

This oak split open so nicely; it was a treat. Very slow-growth too. That represents a diminished strength; but for my joined work it’s fine. The stuff is overbuilt anyway. For the JA-style ladderback chairs, it’s probably not the best choice, but will work…

In this first photo, I’m working on the top end of the 10-foot log. This section was trimmed to just under 4 feet. It opened with two wedges, and barely any muscle. There’s some lousy stuff right near the pith, but the straight wood out near the bark is perfect. Flat, straight and easy to split.

These quarters are split, just with some fibers hanging on. I went in with a short axe and snipped them open.

The main section was five clear feet, just above the flared bottom of the log. I bit more trouble inside, but nothing too difficult. Here I am using one of the heart sections busted off the top bits to pry it open after splitting.

I tried to shoot some video with the new camera. It seems mostly to be me fumbling around and dropping stuff. But I do get the wood opened too. It wasn’t as windy as it sounds, the Nikon has a setting I need to go in & adjust to cut out all that noise…

https://youtu.be/KduuYy499Ps

 

How to Read, by an Oak-snob

I’ve been slow to add stuff to the blog here. Time to correct some of that. Today’s chore is splitting up some leftover bits of oak, and some newly dropped-off bits. Here’s how I read these, and how I decide what to split from a few different bolts. the first one is an old one, been split & hanging around a long time, over a year I’d say. It was given to me about 2 months ago. Free wood is sometimes not worth it. this is one of those cases. Note how the radial plane is cupped. This isn’t from drying, it’s the way the tree grew. The medullary rays curve from the center of the tree to the bark. So if I want wide flat stuff from this, I have my work cut out for me. What I do with such a piece of wood depends on several things: what I need at the time, how much effort I want to put into it, and how much other wood I have around. These days, wood is in pretty good supply, time much less so. Thus, I want to get the best piece I can from this as quickly as possible.

The ruler shows how “un-flat” the split is.

The piece was 26″ long, but with the checking at each end, I expect to get about 22″ length out of it. Just right for a joined stool stile (leg). So I opted to split a 2″x 2″ square out from right below the sapwood. First split with the froe gets off the inner twisted bits.

Next I split off the sapwood & bark. Surprise, the sapwood sheared off across the grain. Usually a log that has been around this long has punky rotten sapwood – I expect that. But to shear off like that means there’s something underneath…

And there was – some deformity curving the grain near one end. So didn’t get my 2″ x 2″ x 22″ stile. The resulting piece could be a ladderback chair front post (something I want to build, but have no time for right now. I’ve made parts for 3 of them so far this fall.) or the leg to a workbench out in the yard. I already have maybe 4 of those benches. On to the next split.

This one’s big & fresh. Just came in yesterday. Bark looks good. Very wide bolt, maybe 12″ or more.

But a big knot creating disturbed grain all around it, the full bottom third or more.

I always am working between getting the biggest piece (widest) I can, or getting the best piece of wood I can. Usually I want the best one. Which in this case, is much narrower than what I first expected from a section like this. See the ruler here, the best (straightest, flattest, least-work) piece is from the 10″ mark to 15″. So that’s what I split.

 

Now the distorted stuff is isolated in the right-hand section, destined for firewood.

Then I further split the remaining stuff into four thin boards for carved boxes, or narrow panels for the sides of some chests. Once I don’t think about where they came from, these are excellent clear, straight boards. This is a case of free wood that is worth it.

One of the older bits looked promising: wide, maybe 7″ or more. 24″ long.

But when I sighted down its length, lots of twist from one end to the other. I didn’t shoot it well enough, but you can generally read the twist down at the far end. Its right hand corner is high, as is the left corner nearest us. Means some hewing before planing. Not fatal, but maybe there’s better wood out here.

Yup. Fresh too. (that means easier to work…) Shorter, but wider.

When I scooch down and sight its radial plane, dead flat! That’s the stuff I’m after…

Gonna have lunch and find some more like this one.

 

Want to learn more about how to read these logs – Plymouth CRAFT has a weekend class coming up that’s just the ticket.  https://www.plymouthcraft.org/riving-hurdlemaking-weekend

Riving, hewing, drawknife work. Me, Rick McKee ( https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/  and https://blueoakblog.wordpress.com/  ) and our friend Pret Woodburn will show you all we know about opening oak logs and what to do with them.

 

 

Plymouth CRAFT workshop in October

With Greenwood Fest taking center stage in the Plymouth CRAFT calendar, there is an understandable quiet period in the summer, just after the Fest. But now autumn is here, and we’re back at it. Along with Pret Woodburn and Rick McKee, I’ll be teaching a 2-day class; Riving & Hurdlemaking Weekend in late October; https://www.plymouthcraft.org/riving-hurdlemaking-weekend

An alternative name for this class could be froe, hatchet and drawknife. But even that leaves bits out. Here’s Rick using the riving brake to shave pieces with the drawknife…

This class is an excellent introduction to the ancient method of riving your work-pieces directly from a log, and using simple edge tools to produce your stock for a project. In our case, it’s a garden fence called a “hurdle.” When I first started green woodworking, these were the methods I learned to make ladderback chairs. The 2-day format precludes us making a chair, hence the hurdles.

The workshop takes place outside of Pinecones, part of the Pinewoods Dance Camp where we hold our Greenwood Fest in the spring. The link above tells the details, you can opt to stay at Pinewoods in one of the cabins – it’s a great setting.

We’ll cover the structure of the wood, why we split it this way & that. How to shave it, hew it – the proper shapes of the various tools and equipment like shaving horses, riving brakes, etc. Lots to cover, and a real eye-opener to many who think wood comes from the store or lumberyard.

Here’s a group shot with the nearly-finished hurdles…

 

There’s other classes coming up in the fall and into the winter. Spoon carving, German holiday baking & more. https://www.plymouthcraft.org/

 

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…

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…