Have you ever wanted to build your own fireplace and beehive oven? It’s not for everyone, but it is something I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time. I’ve talked to a few masons, read all the new and old masonry books I could find, but still didn’t feel comfortable building my own. I could not find a good source that showed the end to end process. I also don’t want to end up burning my house down.
To rectify this situation I figured I’d take a trip back in time. I just got back from spending a week at Historic Eastfield Village in Nassau NY (not far from Albany). If you’ve never been to Eastfield Village it’s a restored colonial village full of buildings and artifacts from the 18th and 19th century. What’s great about the village is that it is a hands on preservation laboratory where you can stay for free in the tavern and live with all the antiques and artifacts that are normally behind glass in a museum setting. What’s the catch? Well you are living as they did in earlier times. There is no electricity or bathroom. You live by candlelight — make sure to bring white taper candles — and you can cook your meals in one of the many fireplaces and ovens. After a long day of working out in the village it was a lot of fun to have a meal in the tavern, have a drink and play some tavern games by candlelight. Some folks were carving wood, some we playing dominoes with Billy’s ‘Eastfield Rules’ and others were enjoying a good conversation with folks from another part of the country. Staying at Eastfield is always a memorable experience.
This 5 day class on building a traditional brick masonry fireplace and beehive oven was a special request from me and was filled with students and alumni from the North Bennet Street School’s Carpentry and Preservation Carpentry programs. We used all hand tools much as our forefathers would have used. Mortar mixed by hand with a hoe, bricks cut by hand with brick hammers — making some brickbats as we went, rubbing the face of a cut brick on a stone, setting and pointing with trowels and testing your work with levels. As I am predominantly a woodworker it was interesting to learn the skills required to tackle this project and as the week went on you could see the class pick up speed and some finesse. And I’m sure the next project we work on will be even better.
The class was taught by my friends Bill McMillen, his son John McMillen and Don Carpentier who is the founder of Eastfield Village — the village is set on his father’s ‘East Field’ and is Don’s long time home. Billy is also a master Tinsmith and preservationist having worked/taught/lead the preservation efforts at Old Richmond Town on Staten Island NY, taught at the Tinsmith Shop at Colonial Williamsburg and countless other venues. Don Carpentier moved and restored all the buildings in the village — an incredible undertaking and is also a well known historian and craftsmen having worked in wood, tinsmithing, blacksmithing and pottery. Don is also well known for his incredible Mochaware. John grew up around all this and is a skilled craftsman working in the NYC area.
If you’d like to see how we spent the week building these fireplaces, please check out the video below which walks you through the week at a high level (If you are reading my blog via email or some mobile phones you may have to click over to the actual post to watch the video):
You can also learn more about Eastfield Village’s current class schedule via their website here and the village in general via this nice video from Martha Stewart that you can watch here. If you can make the trip out to Eastfield Village for a class I highly encourage you to do so — it’s an experience you will never forget.