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.
It’s a medium-sized Spoon Fest – just as you would expect. This year it took place in Pambula Beach, New South Wales. I read about the area on the web, and thought it all sounded like travel/tourist hype, but it actually was more beautiful than the web said. In a rugged/prehistoric way…
The event started off with two 2-day classes, me with spoons carved from (intractable) crooks; and the Wayfaring Stranger Alex Yerks https://www.instagram.com/alex_yerks/?hl=en carving kuksas. If you’re new to Alex’s scene; he’s a wanderer. New York, Minnesota, London – now Australia and New Zealand.
The site was about a 5-10 minute walk from an astoundingly beautiful Pacific beach called Merimbula Bay that stretched for quite a ways. The couple of times I was there, other than the spoon carvers, 3 people meant it was crowded.
We started out under a large marquee (think circus tent if you’re in America) – Alex at one end me at the other.
I had a great group of willing students working their way through some unusual woods as far as I was concerned. I had to preface all my concepts with “Let’s see if this will work in ______.” Some of the woods we tried included Banksia, Casuarina (aka She-oak), Black Wattle, Native cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis), and I forget what else. They flip around from local names, Latin names and other trees they call by names you’d recognize, but the trees are nothing like what they’re named for. Some of them worked. The black wattle showed promise to me – but then mine checked after a couple of days. I thought I had got it past the critical stage – but then the weather turned warmer and it cracked along the back of the bowl. Here in the more humid (most every place is more humid than southeastern Australia) it looks better.
My students were very patient while I was distracted by every song/flit/swoop/screech of the native birds. This eastern Yellow Robin sat on this tree right in front of one of my sessions, as if to say “get your camera…”
That was a happening two days; filled with ideas, techniques, stories, ant-holes that could engulf a person, a goanna, some kangaroos and spoons galore. One morning, I was hanging around chatting with Spoon Jam regular Annie and she spotted this kangaroo and its youngster –
Alex gave a presentation to the whole group of how he carves his kuksas. Later, he kept exclaiming “I was surprised how many people were carving them!” – we had to remind him that he showed everyone how to do it.
One of my favorite stories of the event involved Alex. I arrived at Jeff & Jules’ place ahead of him by a few hours. I was hanging around, learning about parrots, cockatoos and more from them and their kids Misty (age 9) and Isaac (age 7). Isaac was asking me if I knew Alex.
Isaac Donne: Do you know Alex?
PF: Yea, a bit.
ID: What’s he like? PF: Well, he has glasses, long hair and a beard, he’s much younger than me. He might be wearing a vest, and he will definitely be wearing a hat. He travels all over and loves to carve.
ID: what else?
PF: Oh, I don’t know. He’s a musician. Oh, and he’s from New York.
ID: Oh – is he fancy?
I didn’t answer that one. Told him he’d have to get to know Alex, then decide for himself if he’s fancy.
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.
When I started woodworking for real in the late 1970s, I had never been out of New England by myself. Barely out of Massachusetts. Then in 1980, I somehow made my way down to Drew & Louise Langsner’s in western North Carolina. Some years later, I started regularly going between here (Massachusetts), Pennsylvania and Langsner’s.
By now, woodworking has taken me to some great places; 5 trips to England, one to Sweden, one to Alaska, a couple times to North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota and numerous trips to Virginia, North Carolina and more.
But Australia is light years beyond all that. Boston to Anchorage Alaska is 4,558 miles. Sätergläntan (the craft school in Sweden) is closer, 3,612 miles. But to Kyneton, Victoria is 10,526 miles. Then over to Pambula Beach, then back to Kyneton. Then home.
Thanks to my hosts in Australia; Jeff & Jules Donne & the kids, Paul Boyer & Rachel Clarke and Glen, Lisa & Tom Rundell. (they should all be asleep as I write this.) You all took care of my every need, and made sure I saw more astounding birds than I could fathom. Oh, and we did some woodworking too. I’m starting to get night & day straight here, and got out my cold-weather clothes. As I sort the photos, there will be posts to come about the whole trip.
My favorite spoons to carve are those from limbs/trunks/branches that have a sweep, or curve or “crook” in them. It makes splitting the blank more difficult, but makes carving the spoon easier and more interesting than straight-grained stock. To me, anyway. I should be doing a zillion other things right about now, but I had to make the spoons that were in this yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis).
It took a bit of wrangling to get it to split. Some froe work, some hatchet work. Got the three blanks I expected.
Then carving it was a breeze. I often carve spoons while standing at the bench, I feel like if I sit down, I’ll never get back to work. So this seems like it’s just a short interlude…
The piece I’m carving in the photo below here is about the only time I carve the bowl of a spoon into the middle part of the split. I always carve the bowl into the bark side. Unless I get a crook that has 2 spoons in it – one above & one below the pith. As in this case…
Those “below the pith” spoons have their outside bowl shape ready-made, it’s the one on the right here:
I often use a leftie hook (a Hans Karlsson one in this case) to scoop out the rear section of the bowl. I want to get this steep & deep..
Here’s the 2 main spoons from that crook, as they were in the stick.
This little one was from the single crook after the wild bend.
The other procrastination crafty bit I did this week was wrapping the bands around the top and bottom of this canister I started in Jarrod Dahl’s Plymouth CRAFT class a while back. I had two bands to work with, and botched them. Jarrod & Jazmin were kind enough to send me some bark to finish it off. Just needs a handle now.
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/
It’s hard to keep up with all the action on the web these days. Used to be I read the blog aggregator https://unpluggedshop.com/ and that kept me up to date with many of my far-flung woodsy friends and colleagues.
Then came FB and Instagram. FB is a time-sucking hell-hole and I limit how much time I’m willing to give it. I mostly use it to keep in touch with friends I have who don’t read their email.
Instagram in particular really is active for the spoon-carving/green woodworking crowd. There’s a slew of people I follow there, and I can’t list them all here – but I’ll point out a few you might like, if you don’t already follow them. I just strolled through my list, knowing I’d be leaving a lot of great friends/carvers/woodworkers out – not a slight, don’t take it personally. I’ll do this again if people find it helpful…
But first, there’s one special non-woodsy one; Heather Neill.
https://www.instagram.com/pathcarvers/ – This is one to watch! It’s JoJo Wood and her newly-wed husband Sean Vivide setting up workshops near Birmingham, England. Not just “let’s teach people to carve stuff” it’s aimed at helping people find some benefit/healing through craft work. Here’s a blurb from their website:
“Part of our project is to help introduce traditional crafts and creative arts to sections of the community that would not usually have the access or the opportunity to experience the beneficial effects that they can bring. We work alongside organisations such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health services, low income families, prisons, carers and people who would find the effects and skills gained from participating in developing a traditional craft based activity useful for their day to day living.”