Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Woodworking in America 2013" - I was there!!

After wishing I could be there for the last few years, I have finally done it!

I went to the "Woodworking in America 2013" Conference/Event (WIA) in Cincinnati, Ohio in October. What a joy it was to be there too! I was one of many hundreds of woodworkers present, but other than an Adelaide boy who lives and works in the USA now, I was the only Australian as far as I know.

Imagine it... Two and a half days of non-stop woodworking talk, demonstrations,  tools and activity. Bliss. Even more blissfully, there were hardly any bods selling power tools and machines in the "Market Place". The focus was pretty much on hand tools there. Fantastic second hand and antique tools for sale, new tools from the many boutique saw makers, plane makers, and other tool makers that the USA woodworking community can support. Timber, gadgets, books, and paraphernalia for all things wood. There was even the Hand Tool Olympics going on in there all day too.

Day 1, I started the morning going to a demonstration by well known woodcarver Mary May, who was demonstrating "Carving life into leaves".
Mary May shows us how to do it.
I then went to the session by Peter Follansbee on "Carved spoons". I have been following Peter's blog for about 3 years now, and have his book from last year and it's forerunner. Mr Follansbee, you have been partly responsible for my getting fired up about wanting to do green woodworking over the last couple of years, which is why I am here at WIA and more! It's all your fault!..Thankyou.
Peter expounds on why the commercial cheap wooden kitchen spoon is symbolic of all that is wrong with the world.
With deft axe work, Peter hews a spoon from a crotch of fruit wood.
Roughly shaped by axe, now for the knife work..
Nice spoons, Peter!
It was so nice to meet Peter, to hear and watch him demonstrating, and to learn from him. Afterwards  I quietly presented him with a nice Spotted Gum carving mallet (Eucalyptus maculata) which I had made and brought to him from Australia as a gift to thank him for getting me going on this green woodworking journey.

Next I spent some time at the Marketplace, including participating in the Hand Tool Olympics - a great experience which gave me many ideas for the Perth Wood Show and other events next year. I salivated over the piles of antique tools for sale, and thought of my colleagues in the Hand Tool Preservation Society of WA, back home in Australia. I bought a very beautiful folding drawknife, with a patent date of 1896 on it. I'm no collector, though - I would be using it all the next week!
SO many beautiful old drawknives in one stall alone! Patrick Leech's stall.
How about a rebate plane?
Later that afternoon Peter Follansbee was doing another session - this time on "17th century carving". Another one I didn't want to miss. Fantastic to be there and see the sequencing for doing the relief carvings. He is such a full bottle that he could rattle off which pieces in collections had these carving patterns, where in New England they were probably made, and the probable date range the piece was made. It was a delight to be in the audience.
Carved frame and panel components from a 17th century style chest.
Demo board on how to create the patterns.
Very nice example of more complex 17th century decorative carving! 
The simplicity and technical skill in the 17th century woodworking he does has been inspiring to me.

I could only really fit in 3 sessions! there were another 23 over the day that I could not get to in the overlapping schedule!!  We all had some tough decisions to make, but I was a happy as a pig in mud...

That evening was the big dinner for all the WIA delegates/participants. Peter Follansbee was the keynote speaker. That was OK by me, and once again Peter oozed knowledge and valuable insights.
It had been a full day. I arrived back at my hotel like the cat who got the cream.

Day 2. I began the day going to the session by Christopher Schwarz on "Joinery planes: Sharpening and Use", which also involved a potted history on the tools. Very informative and nice at last to hear Chris. I have been following his blog for several years, and corresponded with him a number of times, so it was nice to meet him at last.
Chris holding forth on planes.
The next session I went to was Roy Underhill's  "Meet the mystery mallet". Having run his poplar TV woodworking show for over 30 years, "The Woodwright's Shop", Roy is an accomplished entertainer as well as an incredibly knowledgeable traditional woodworker. Lots of fun but also very informative. Great to be there, and a taste of things to come for me, as I was already booked in to attend one of Roy's Woodwright School 5 day classes directly after the WIA.
How is this possible?.
Roy shows us how it's done
 The third session I did that day was with Peter Galbert: "The windsor chair, from log to living room"
Once again, this fed right into my yearning for all things green woodworking:  Peter demonstrated the making of many parts of the windsor chair, including riving and hewing the arm from a log and then steam bending it right there before our eyes. He made it look so easy! A very informative session too.
Peter took us on a fantastic chairmaking journey.

That evening I was at "The Planemaker's Dinner", where the speakers were a panel of boutique plane makers. Very interesting stuff.
The lack of training and reduced pathways for kids to get into woodworking generated some discussion and comment in the room. This was not the first time I had heard these discussions over the weekend. There seems to be a general consensus that   woodworking ("Shop" as it is called here) is disappearing from schools and getting dumbed down too.
Hey, this area is my specialty!! That night I wrote an email to one of the WIA organisers, suggesting that they should get me back next year to run sessions on how to get kids into woodworking. I think I have lots to offer here.

Another full-on day.Somewhere in there I also returned to the Market Place and participated again in the Hand Tool Olympics.At both of those dinners I got to sit with some really nice guys.There was much chewing of the fat to  be done... It's a shame that I couldn't attend the other heap of sessions there was no time to do.    ...Hey, I was very happy with my lot for that day though.
One tiny portion of the market place.
So many beautiful old carving tools for sale!

Day 3 was a half day, just the morning. I went to Chris Schwarz's "Tool boxes and benches from home centre materials". Which was a lot of fun and kind of fits in with my bent for recycling packing crates  (in preference to going to the big green hardware stores in WA).
It's a kind of "woodworking for the common person" sort of approach. Great stuff.

That was it! WIA 2013 was over.

I was so glad to get there after having wistfully looked at the programs on the internet for several years each time it came around. What a privilege and a pleasure to actually be there. Hand tool woodworking is so huge here in the USA, compared to Australia...

It was an event worth travelling across the world to attend.  A great networking opportunity, a chance to meet the people whose blogs I have been following, a chance to make new friends, and a chance to learn so much. What more could I ask for?

I'd come all this way from Australia, so I was going to make the most of it.
My woodworking adventure in the USA had just begun!!

Woodcraft Week with Roy Underhill.

Yes, I have been in North Carolina doing a week of green woodworking with the legendary Roy Underhill of "The Woodwright's Shop" fame.
What a privilege it was for me to have been able to get a place in this course, in which I shared with nine other very nice blokes who came from all over the USA.
For the benefit of those outside of the USA, Roy has been doing "The Woodwright's Shop" TV woodworking show for over 30 years. To date there have been 429 episodes made!  The inspirational starting point in their woodworking journey for many Americans, Roy's programs focus on traditional woodcraft & woodworking skills, techniques and history - using only hand tools and human-powered machines.

The setting for the course was Roy's beautiful property at McBane Mill, which to a wandering Australia has the most amazing array of tree species in the woods. For Australian eyes, it was fascinating to see the diversity of tree species in one small area of forest, as for us the diversity would be in the lower storey plants rather than the trees in any given area of forest. The small area of forest at McBane Mill held at least 18 different tree species - all of which would have had traditional uses due to their different properties.

The primary project for the week was that we would each make a shaving horse, using green wood. Along the way we would learn and experience a wide array of traditional woodworking skills and techniques.

There was a log jam in the riverbed, from which we extracted a nice walnut log, using cross-cut saws, axes and splitting wedges. This material was used to make the legs for our shaving horses, and other parts like the pins.
Roy inserts a sawyers's wedge as the walnut log is sawn with a crosscut saw.
Demonstrating the splitting of the heavier walnut log where it lay.
Trimming the riven walnut plank with an adze.
Using a froe to rive the walnut into leg-sized material.
The art of hewing to further shape the material for the legs.
Astride a bodger's shave horse, shaping walnut legs with a draw knife.
A view from the horse. Very nice walnut legs in the making!

We felled a Sweet Gum tree (a species of liquidamber), using axe and crosscut saws, to make all the "dumb heads" for our shaving horses. After hauling the log sections from the forest, we then used a variety of techniques and saws, hewing axes, adzes and draw knives to create our dumb heads.
Roy demonstrates the subtleties of swaging the rakers on a nice perforated lance-tooth crosscut saw.
The tree selected, the felling path of the Sweet Gum is planned. 
Sawing above and behind the scarf. Be quick and ready to move right away!
Sawing the log into suitable sections - two dumb heads in each piece.
The tree gave us enough to make 10 dumb heads. Now the hard work begins!
Making the dumb heads was the most laborious part of the whole project, but was a great way to learn to use a number of tools and techniques. Each one would be slightly different, depending on the maker and their journey with the tools.
Marking the lines on the log with a snap-line.
Dumbheads under production. lots of hewing to do.
Dumbhead taking shape. The long part is the leg/lever operated by your feet. The big block on top will be the upper jaw which holds down the work.
My dumbhead is going to have a smiley face grinning at the operator of the shaving horse.
The seat and body of the shaving horses we made from really nice 10"x2" Yellow Pine boards which had been obtained from a saw mill and were freshly sawn. This same material was used for the foot on most dumb heads. Riven oak and walnut pins were used to hold our horses together.
Using a beautiful boring machine from the 1880's to drill out my leg holes in the body of the horse.
Legs in, now shaping the body/seat of the horse.
Using a light duty shave horse to produce a heavy duty dumbhead.
"That thar's maa hoss". Under construction. Time to chop the mortises for the dumbhead!
Roy shows how to work out the mortise positions for the dumbhead.
My shaving horse is complete!! Works a treat as well.
When it comes to horses, you want to back a Grinner! Two embedded $2AUS coins for eyes. Meet Mr Smiley, from Australia.
As we learnt about the challenges and delights of working green wood, we were introduced to many wonderful old hand tools, including the boring machine, reamers, hand augers, and an assortment of saws, axes and chisels  ... just to name a few!
Roy demonstrates the Spring Pole Lathe.
We had a taste of Pit Sawing - quite literally.
I completed my shaving horse - which works very nicely too - but of course I cannot take it home. It's a bit sad, really! So I left if behind to be part of Roy's menagerie of gear at McBane Mill. ...Let's hear it for Mr Smiley!
What a wonderful ride this week!       Goodbye, Mr Smiley.

In addition to making our shaving horses, we did a discovery tour of the trees growing in the forest, and Roy gave us a taste of bowl carving, pit sawing, the spring pole lathe, and more. We also did a visit to Master Blacksmith/Whitesmith Peter Ross, to learn a little about the amazing work he does. He demonstrated the making of a Log Dog, just like we had been using when holding log sections while making our dumb heads.
Then there was the visit to "Ed's Lolly Shop" as I call it - The Antique Woodworking Tool store Ed Lebetkin operates upstairs above the Woodwright's School in Pittsboro, NC. A dangerous place to take your wallet!! So many fantastic tools for sale!  So many smiling people emerging with many beautiful tools in their hands...

With a lifetime of experience in this stuff, Roy just oozes with knowledge and information, which he generously imparts with gentle humour and enthusiasm.

Was it worth coming all those tens of thousands of miles, enduring all those painful hours squeezed into budget seats on numerous planes, to be part of Woodcraft Week with Roy?  ...YOU BETCHA!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Building a WA Blackbutt kitchen - Part 1. Getting started.

It all starts with an idea, a concept - and a need.
My customer had been pouring through magazines and the internet over many months, gathering up ideas for her new kitchen. She drew up a concept drawing, and we bounced around the ideas, construction implications, proportions, materials, and other practical matters.
The concept drawing of the kitchen.
I did a scale drawing on a piece of plywood, showing the detail of the proposed cabinets' face frames. This would help me determine the methodology for constructing it. All drawer fronts and doors will be set into the frame, with the frame creating "borders" around them. The cabinets would be made up of a group of Modules, each with fancy feet on the bottom front corners. The face frame "border" would be 40mm wide, with a bead and quirk along each side - like you would get from an old wooden moulding plane. However, with the grain of a lot of WA Blackbutt being pretty wild, I opted to use a router cutter rather than my trusty 3/8" Bead Moulding plane - to maximise consistency and minimise tear-out.
Experimentation. 4 pieces loosely held together to obtain my customer's approval.  
With approval and confirmation of the face frame design concept, and the methodology worked out, it was time to commence building the kitchen.  

A pile of vertical frame components and horizontals, machined up ready
For much of the year I have been working on the renovation of this lovely Art Deco house in Wembley, Western Australia. It would be nice now to face a whole new set of challenges.

Making the Corner Mitres on the face frames.
Accurate mitring of the corners after the profiles had been run was gong to be tricky, due to the double quirks/beads. I would use a pair of 3/8" dowels in each joint, glued and then screwed vertically in relation to the frames orientation.

My trusty dowling machine, which I fabricated from a 1/3 HP washing machine motor, a pair of hinges off an ancient old industrial fridge, and a Paulcall chucked workhead, has served me well for over 28 years. It has a nifty low-tech rise and fall mechanism made repeatable by the use of a set packers. The use of additional specially made jigs always makes functions consistently accurate.
This marking gauge was knocked up to reach over the edge of the mitre's short point. 
The borer in action, about to bore the second dowel hole. The slot through which the bit emerges from below the benchtop also normally has the dust extractor connected, to remove most of the waste. Works a treat.
That's the old beastie. She's bored a lot of dowel holes over the last 28 years. Removing the packer stack sees her retract below the docker bench. The dust extractor blast gate is below the bench under the slot. 
One of the face frames glued up. This one has the T joints as well, due to the centre mullion.
Cleaning up the completed face frames.
All those beads and quirks were going to be tricky top clean up. So a special scraper was made to assist the job.
Basic tools for cleaning up post glue-up. Plus the scraper.
A small scraper was ground from a blank into the correct radius curve and quirk size.
That's a Lee Valley beading tool blank that I've ground to profile.
The little scraper in action. No point putting into either of the Lee Valley beading tools, as you can't get into the inside mitred corners with them. This way you can.

Making the T-Joint on the face frames.
One of the face frames would have a mullion running vertically. Due to the beads, the joint would require a mitre through the bead on each side.
A rough attempt on the practice run. The system worked.
Accurate marking out is everything. The centre waste here removed with the radial arm saw.
Cutting is made easier with a 45 degree guide block, cramped accurately in the right position.
The saw plate is held flat against the guide block, and sawn down to the quirk base line.
Ditto on the other side.
Trusty No71 router plane consistently paring out the centre trench to depth. 
That'll do nicely...
Putting the cabinet sections together.
Often, I get so engrossed in what I am doing that I forget to take pictures. This part of the journey is a case in point.
Things are moving ahead well. Four of the sections in place on top of the toe rail.
All six sections in place. Now for the benchtops.
Next we would be making and fitting the benchtops. I had to get onto this and worry about most of the internal details of the cabinets later. We wanted to get the benchtops in and the plumbing and installations done for the dishwasher, sink, taps and gas cooktop all complete before I was to leave to go to the Woodworking in America conference in Cincinnati.

Yep, we made the deadline with about a week to spare... On my return we will continue the journey.
I am writing this post from my hotel in Cincinnati. the Conference starts tomorrow!