Thursday, October 31, 2013

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!

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