I can’t believe how fast this month is going by. I guess all that playing in the snow is catching up with me. Tweaked my back a little, (I think it was a sledding incident) so for the past 2 days have had light duty… so some blog updating was due. I wrangled with the sidebar to this blog. I doubt any one actually uses it; but there is a search button down there somewhere, as well as links to order the wainscot chair DVD; Maureen’s knitting/felting site, and Plymouth CRAFT. You will also see I have, much to my own shock, joined the 21st century and added an Instagram link. There is also a Facebook something-or-other out there with my name on it – all of this is down to Robin Wood and Jarrod Stone Dahl, those cursed bowl turners. I’m astounded by these things. Robin showed me his Instagram site – and while I was creating one, people were finding it…I don’t want to know how that works!
I’m trying both of these things. Who knows how long it will last? I still like the blog – that I know I’ll keep.
I’ve been carving some parts for a desk box lately. I’ve only made this type of box once before. The original is from the Braintree, Massachusetts group, William Savell and his sons John and William. These are the first patterns I ever learned how to carve. Working on them now is really so much fun; makes me look back on the whole joinery trip. I shoveled out some oak the other day; so more work coming.
Some time ago, I wrote a column for Popular Woodworking and asked the question “what is green woodworking?” (December 2014, #215) I’m not going to repeat the article here, but want to look at the subject. The column stemmed from a talk I gave at Lie-Nielsen’s Open House last summer.
I used to know pretty clearly what “green woodworking” meant. But the older I get, the more I realize the less I know.
Making a carved spoon is a great example of green woodworking – you can make them from dry wood, (I wouldn’t) but the best ones come from trees, and are worked while the wood still has a high moisture content. More direct, easier to cut, exploiting the fibers of the riven/split form – all of these are hallmarks of green woodworking. Hewn bowls, and many turned ones fall into a similar category. But bowls and spoons are single pieces of wood. what about furniture, when you put stuff together?
When I first learned of this method of woodworking, it was Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft, Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s Shop – and the book that coined the term for the modern day – Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Green Woodworking by John (now Jennie) Alexander. What puts the green in green woodworking? Is it moisture content? Is it riving the wood? Is it “country crafts” like the British books that inspired all of the authors listed above – Jenkins’ Traditional Country Craftsmen” and Edlin “Woodland Crafts in Britain”. Alexander felt left out of the “country” aspect of this traditional woodworking, living in the heart of the city. Hence her book’s subtitle has “green woodworking” – not country anything.
The ladderback style chair Alexander learned even got a great deal of its strength from the moisture content manipulation – dry tenons in wetter mortises. the mortise shrinks, the tenon swells. Presto! You’re a chairmaker and have never been to a lumberyard. The way I remember it, in the 1980s green woodworking was ladderback chairs, some bowl-turning (I remember folks used to turn them green, let them dry, the re-turn them round again!) and a few other disciplines. Timber framing comes to mind.
I think about coopering – is that green woodworking? Usually riven stock, worked with a hatchet, drawkinives, shaving horses – but the critical parts are either executed or at least assembled when the stock is bone-dry. Or else.
Windsor chairs? In America, these usually had, and have, softwood seats. Often white pine. That ain’t worked green. But the hardwood components are often riven from green stock. They’re selectively dried, like parts of Alexander’s ladderback chair, before assembly. Even the hardwood seats of British Windsors can’t be dead-green…
Some approach the “green” like the modern use of the term, renewable energy; careful use of resources, that sort of thing. Coppice crafts, are perfectly aligned with this idea. This work has long been very popular in the Old World, yet to my knowledge, never caught on here in the New World.
Starting in 1989, Alexander and I explored another furniture craft, seemingly more complex, until we got through with it & stripped it down – joiner’s work of the 17th century. It had riven stock, high moisture content – but some of it was not “country” in its format – some were very elaborate forms; with lots of decoration. This work has been my main focus since then. It does not fit the eco-groovy definition at all. I call it “Imperialist Swine” woodworking – you need a whole new forest to sustain it. The oak trees I want take 200 years to grow to size. And I will only use a small percentage of the tree. The rest goes in the fire.
In the end, I decided I don’t think of myself as a “green woodworker” although probably three-quarters of my stock is riven from green logs, and primarily worked up while it has a high moisture content. Trees are wood, I’m a woodworker. Sometimes I use stock fresh from the log, other times I need stuff that’s air-dried. I work the wood at various stages between wet & dry. Most of my furniture is a combination of the two. I think that’s a traditional approach….
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)
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Here’s one many of you have seen before, related to the oak one I’m doing now.
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:
The inside of the 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.
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″
Here are some of the period carvings I was following somewhat
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.
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.
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:
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:
For green woodworkers anyway. In summer, working in the wood pile can be unpleasant sometimes. Buggy, hot, humid. The wood storage can get to be a problem. Insects can get in your wood, decay can set into some species pretty quickly.
But in winter….it’s another story. This pile is against a steep embankment in my yard.
Storing green wood in the log this time of year is a breeze. It’s like suspended animation, even better than Ted Williams’ head. (this is a sure thing, Ted’s head, I doubt it) I try to store the stuff I need the most upright. There’s a few benefits. You don’t have to lift and heave big heavy log sections around to get at the one that’s just exactly perfect for what you need. And when it snows, it’s easier to uncover the stash. The short stuff in this pile is just over four feet, the birch might be over 6′. (I don’t know what that is in the other measuring system)
Here’s some I split out today, broke it down further at the riving brake, and now will bring it in to plane the long stuff for some joined chests & a cupboard. There’s other less-pressing stock under the snow. It can wait.
The kids took a jaunt around the yard to test-drive their new snowshoes. More snow on the way, we’ll hit the woods tomorrow or the next day.