When working with reclaimed wood you generally want to be extra cautious — you never know what you are going to find in the wood. Normally I visually inspect the wood, remove anything glaring (bits of old nails, stones, loose knots etc), then make a pass with a lumber wizard metal detector, remove what it finds and start working my way through the wood. Every so often something makes it through that system….
Above and below is a VERY tiny tack was embedded deep into an old barn board I was reclaiming. It must have been fairly deep into the board as the metal detector didn’t find it, but it sure found my planer knife.
But such is the price we sometimes have to pay in order to work with old growth timbers. On an 8-10″ wide board I was counting well over 150 years of growth rings and this pine often handles like hardwood.
For projects like this rustic headboard the trick is to stop milling before you lose all the history and character of the old wood.
But in the end the extra effort is worth with for the results cannot be duplicated with modern woods and simulated aging techniques.
You can see a bit more of this project on an earlier post I made here.
The North Bennet Street School (NBSS), America’s Oldest Trade School, has been a Boston institution located at 39 North Bennet Street in the North End since 1879. The school was incorporated in 1885 and has a long history of offering vocational training and forward thinking social services which continue through today.
After more than a century at the original location the school eventually grew beyond what the old assemblage of buildings (an ex-church, sailor’s retirement home, townhouses etc) could fit and some of the programs had to move to other locations around the Boston area. In an effort to re-unify the school, update the facilities, and get everyone under one roof again the school embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign and has now moved to 150 North Street in Boston (about 1/3 mile from the original location). This new building takes up a city block and has recently opened for the new school year. This new set of buildings once served as the Boston City Printing Press and a Police station. They sit above the entrance to the Callahan tunnel right on the Greenway. The buildings have a stately facade, are stoutly constructed and have an interior fitting for a school of this kind.
Wednesday night was the first North Bennet Street School Alumni Meeting at the new building. We had the opportunity to tour the new facility.I took as many pictures as I could with my iPhone and have shared them below as a virtual tour of the new building. This small set of photos do not do it justice, so I recommend coming by to see it in person yourself during this year’s open house events Nov 8-9. If you click on any of the photos below you can see it in a larger size and can also cycle through them like a slide show.
Front of the building complex which touches the Rose Kennedy Greenway
Scale — the 2 buildings stretch a full city block in the North End of Boston
Architectural Details of the Building
Rear corner of new building. 1st floor in the corner is Preservation Carpentry. Above that is Carpentry. Above that is Cabinet and Furniture Making
Part of the new NBSS marketing campaign ‘Do what you love, every day’
Student work already on display in the new Gallery
Boyd, the new NBSS Gallery Manager in the new Gallery Space
Early NBSS Sign that we used to have in the PC dept. in Arlington
A violin in progress
Violin-making bench room
One of the many awesome views of Boston from the new building.
A nice change is that each student will have a locker to store and lock up personal items
First year Preservation Carpentry Bench Room
Rich’s sweet new teaching space in the second year classroom
Timber framing models in the second year Preservation Carpentry Bench Room
Human powered miter and mortising machines in the PC dept.
More models and kitchenette in the Preservation Carpentry Classroom
Preservation Carpentry Machine Room
Loading dock and wood rack in Preservation Carpentry
NIcely redone skylghts with indirect lighting — it’s almost too nice for NBSS — ‘Where’s the dank Moe? The dank?”
NBSS Feeling more like home — some of the many great sample walls have migrated to the new space.
One of the cabinet and furniture making bench rooms.
A CFM Student’s tool chest.
More CFM Bench Room. Great to see all the natural light.
Piano technology and repair classroom
Great new common space for students to gather, have lectures, display work etc.
Entryway to the carpentry department
NBSS Alumni Association touring the new facility
Jewelry making and repair department bench space
Jewelry making and repair department work area
Nice view from the atrium.
Great indoor space for big lectures etc. I love seeing the old exterior facade exposed inside of the building.
As a graduate of the Preservation Carpentry Program and workshop instructor at the school, the old building will always hold a special place in my heart, but I am happy to see this new building come together as it took an incredible amount of work by the school and its many supporters to pull of this move.
You can learn more about the history of the school here and here.
This past Thursday and Friday I made my bi-annual pilgrimage to the ‘Live Free or Die’ Tool Show and Auction in Nashua, NH.
I always enjoy hunting for whatever oddball tool I have on my wish list or whatever new treasure I didn’t know I couldn’t live without until I discover it.
Beyond my own tool shopping its good to see old friends and familiar faces at the show.
Some years you’ll see tons of a given type of item, other years that same item might be real hard to come by. This year hand drills and Stanley 45s and 55s seemed to be plentiful.
Tool chests on the other hand were not in season it seems. So I grabbed a few snapshots of what I saw this time out, but nothing overly notable.
Some years I come home with a ton of stuff from my mental list and some times I don’t get much but I still come home with some finds. This time out I got some great deals and found several items I’d been hunting for, for a long time. I found a nice LARGE Starrett No. 85 dividers which are great for laying out staircases and other large scale projects. I also got a deal I could not pass up on another Tite-Mark, an Ulmia Moving Fillister plane and a nice old Starrett depth gauge with a real nice micro adjustment knob. Since the last show I seem to be really into Miller’s falls double gear hand drills — which I first learned about from my friend Tom Fidgen. Last year I picked up a #5 that I now use all the time. This time I got 2 real nice #2s an a nice #3 for the shop.
I also found some nice old tool catalogs including a 1938 Starrett Catalog, a reprint of an 1883 Atha Tool Company Catalog, and a book from the 1950s on old Virginia furniture with great shop drawings inside. My favorite find which was given to me for free is an old EAIA Pamphlet from 1971 that was put together for Old Bethpage Village in NY (which I remember going to in grade school) called ‘Of Plates and Purlins — Grandpa builds a Barn’ This great little pamphlet has a very Eric Sloane-esque feel to it and walks through the basics of building a dutch barn.
And last but not least was as real nice forged cant hook from Maine. In the coming weeks I need to clear some land out in the yard for a forthcoming timber framed barn/shed so I am sure it will get some good use.
Now it’s time to get out to the workshop, try out the new toys and start and start saving for the next show in April….
When last we left our plane-making heroes they were in the process of making a traditional single iron jointer plane with my friend Bill Anderson at the Woodwright’s School.
Bill had a great cross section model of how this sort of bench plane works — made by one of his students. With the body of the plane taking shape, next up was tuning the mouth opening and the abutments. If the mouth is too wide or too large the plane may not cut cleanly so you need to carefully fit the iron to the opening. If the abutment is not carefully placed when you re-flatten the sole of the plane you’d also be opening the mouth more. You also need to take care flatten the face of the bed that supports the iron — if there are high points the iron can pivot on those and make it tough to use the plane. One of the many testing/fitting gauges Bill had was a ‘bed testing gauge’ which looks and works much like a pair of ‘pants’ we use in timber framing to test out the thickness of a tenon, except in this case you are using it to check the thickness of the cheeks and how close your bedline is getting to the line scribed on the side the plane body.
With the mouth and throat all set, next up was making the wedge to hold the iron in place. The wedge needs to be carefully planed to fit the abutments inside of your plane and tightly hold the iron in place. Again here you are using an abutment gauge (wooden wedge of a known profile in degrees) to test your work as you go. With all the gauges and specialized tools you can quickly see why plane-making was its own dedicated craft specialty.
The wedge is further relieved so that the shavings can clearly escape the plane body.
Above you can see some of the many gauges used in laying out and testing parts of your plane, along with templates for the handles.
The handle is first cut out from a rough blank and then carefully shaped by hand to have flowing, graceful lines similar to that of a quality hand saw. The result is a handle that fits the hand so well it, the whole plane feels like an extension of your body.
Various rasps, files and sandpaper are used to shape the handle. Using crisp hand stitched Auriou rasps made quick work of shaping the handles.
Above is the handle after a bit of light sanding.
Shown here you can see Bill’s finished/sample plane which is based on an historical example. I’ll post the final shots of my own plane when I finish it soon in my shop.
At the end of the workshop one of the most important tasks was to make sure you plane can take a nice shaving. I’m happy to report that I was able to get a nice full width shaving with my mostly completed plane. (I need to finish setting the handle, trim the edges, apply some finish and use my maker’s name stamp and it will be ready for regular use in the shop).
In an upcoming post I will complete this series with how I finished off the plane. Stay tuned…
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Bill Anderson or take a class with him, and I highly encourage you to do so, please check out his website here.
P.S. You can see the first post on making this jointer plane here.
A single iron jointer plane is one of those tools you have use yourself to truly appreciate. Over Labor Day weekend I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make one of these planes with Willard ‘Bill’ Anderson at the Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC.
Bill is a passionate woodworker and skilled teacher. You may recognize him from his appearances on Roy’s television show or the articles that he’s written. He’s a molding plane aficionado and has studied plane-making and general furniture-making with many masters in the field. He recently retired from being a Scientist for the EPA so I see a lot of parallels to my own life working in software.
The plane is made of air dried American Beech and a new old stock English iron.
We started out by squaring up the stock using a wooden straightedge and winding sticks.
Next up was laying out the mouth and throat. The mortises are all chopped by hand with a chisel and refined via a series of floats and scrapers. It was my first time using that many different floats, and for what looks like it might be a fairly coarse tool, when sharpened leaves a remarkably good surface.
As we worked through the throat mortise a key was to make sure you don’t overshoot and chop through the abutment.
One of the last steps in refining the abutment and sides of the throat was to scrape the surface using a scraper chisel.
This beast of a chisel was made by Bill and heat treated by Peter Ross. It was based on some research Bill did into traditional plane making tools. The long bar of tool steel and handle allow you to put a lot of your weight into it as you scrape the surface flat. The cutting edge is a very steep angle similar to a scraper you’d use with a lathe (upside down compared to the lathe tool) but works well since you are only removing a little bit of material at a time.
Regular bench chisels are used to clean up any fuzz in the corners. Next up is cutting in for the wedge and cleaning up a cheeks. This is an operation that requires a steady hand and the ability to work to an exacting standard. You want your test wedge, and eventually your actual wedge, to fit tightly against the abutment so the iron does not move when you are working with the plane. I took my time and was very happy with the results.
In upcoming posts I will document more about my experience in building and finishing this plane.
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Bill Anderson or take a class with him, and I highly encourage you to do so, please check out his website here.
The Woodwright’s School is already hallowed ground for a lot of woodworkers, but hovering above workshop is Ed Lebetkin’s Antique Tool store….
Before heading up there, I was warned to leave my wallet behind as there would be a lot of temptation at the top of the stairs….Ed’s store is filled with just about every kind of traditional woodworking tool and accessory you could want.
An amazing assortment of chisels, planes of every kind, marking gauges, braces and bits.
One whole wall of the shop is filled with molding planes .
New stuff is always coming and going so you’ll want to visit often — or see about renting a space to camp out and be first to check out the new arrivals. 😉
During my visit I was enamored with an unusual boring machine. The castings on the tilt mechanism look similar to my old Swan boring machine but what made this machine unusual was the mechanism to advance the business end of the unit horizontally via the large knob on the bottom — rather than the whole dance of shimmying yourself and the unit up the timber and re-aligning the auger to make the next hole. The runners and support structure for it was all metal which leads me to believe it was a later design towards the end of that era.
I tried my best to get out without buying anything — especially since the Nashua Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction is coming up in a couple of weeks, but it’s like Ed knew I was coming. I found a great reprint book on Concord NH furniture makers, a book on the Shaker Barn full of tools at the Shelburne Museum in VT which I wrote about here, a MWTCA reprint of a tool catalog, a nice old Stanley auger bit extension for use with a bit brace, and a Stanley 203 bench clamp. This neat little clamp is something I’ve looked at in the past — and makes a nice addition to any bench with a sliding deadman. I look forward to giving it a try.
I’m looking forward to my next visit. If you’d like to plan a visit to the tool store or contact Ed you can find his contact info on the store’s web page here. Ed’s a great guy. If you meet him, be sure to tell him I sent you. 🙂
For Labor Day weekend this year I flew down to the Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, North Carolina to take a 3 day class on making a Jointer Plane with Willard ‘Bill’ Anderson (more on that in an upcoming post).
My flight got in early on Friday and I had the chance to hang out with some friends at the school during the last day of a class on building the Anarchist’s Tool Chest with Chris Schwarz.
The Woodwright’s School is located in downtown Pittsboro which is a scenic town about 20 minutes from Chapel Hill.
Don’t let the sometimes quiet streets fool you, once inside the school you are in a lively space full of folks who as passionate about woodworking as you are. Roy was on hand to help students as they worked their way through the last day of week long class on building a traditional English tool chest based on Chris’ book ‘The Anarchist’s Toolchest’.
One of the attractions to Roy’s school is its focus on only using traditional English/American hand tools — there were no whining power tools, no Dozuki saws and no plastic handles to be seen — or at least none that I saw when Roy was making his rounds. 😉
If you ever read Roy’s book on public speaking you’ll get why Khruschev’s shoe is an interesting trophy. Beyond the witty stories and advice on how to keep a crowd engaged and entertained, the last chapter on the morning after a presentation was the one that resonated the most with me. Applying the advice therein has improved several lectures I have to make each year.
Traditional woodworking can feel like a very small world at times — the gentleman in the photo above was also in the class I took earlier this summer on making a Name Stamp with Peter Ross at Roy’s school — even though I was 700+ miles from home I happy to see that I could still run into people I knew.
Loitering in the back of the classroom is a corner cupboard you may recognize from Roy’s show. I heard his wife has been waiting on it for a while — which made me feel a tiny bit better about the dresser I owe my wife Alyssa — which reminds me I need to get working on that again….
It was also great to spend some time hanging out with my friends Chris Schwarz and Megan Fitzpatrick including a stroll through Ed’s tool shop above the school.
No toolchest is ever completely filled and Ed’s shop has a huge collection of traditional tools on par with some of the best regional tool shows. I tried my best to be good and save my pennies for the Nashua tool show later this month, but I did find some new toys.
I had fun chatting with everyone, examining some interesting tools and helping to sweep up before a trip to the City Tap — which is a awesome bar just behind the school with great food and drinks.
On my way out of the school I saw my old friend Otto Salomon and various other proper woodworking models from the Teacher’s Handbook of Sloyd.
It seems the Woodwright’s School is full of new and old friends that are literally popping out of the woodworking.
If you’d like to learn more about the school, make some new friends, meet up with old friends, or sign up for a class you can check out the school’s website here.
No visit to Old Salem Museums and Gardens would be complete without a visit to and guided tour of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (aka MESDA).
Make sure to head over to the museum first and schedule a guided tour early — as they fill up fast. I learned about this museum from Glen Huey’s book ‘Furniture in the Southern Style’. Just as he said, the museum staff were extremely friendly and knowledgeable. After my tour and talking to the guides, I was invited back to see some of the other rooms. I had a great time and made some new friends.
As someone who grew up in the Northeast and New England it was great to see some more of the vernacular pieces from the South and be able to compare and contrast the details with those of my own work. I hope to tackle some Southern style pieces soon. The museum also has a great research library and a staff who enjoy sharing what they know — I look forward to doing some research there in the future.
When lunch time came around we headed over to the Tavern at Old Salem. They had a newly revamped menu which included a lot of southern favorites and fresh local produce. I had a great pulled pork sandwich and warm German Potato salad — the best I ever had that was not made by family. I come from a long line of German ancestors, some of which were brewers, so much like the woodworking gene, I’m pretty sure a lot more things are hereditary. Love of beer, bratwurst, bacon, expressed construction in woodworking etc. I also think that German language has a nice sound to it — so that one must be subconscious as at a conscious level I don’t get it….
After lunch we had fun exploring the town’s many shops, houses and gardens.
Below on the blog is a gallery of some of the more interesting architectural highlights from my walk through the village:
You can easily spend a full day visiting Old-Salem and MESDA. In the evening things get pretty quiet in the historic area so plan your trip accordingly, but there are lots of other things to see in the surrounding area in the evening.
If you’d like to plan a visit to Old Salem Museum and Gardens you can check out their website here.
This summer I had the chance to take a week long road trip and travel around to a lot of historic sites in Virginia and North Carolina. One of my favorite stops along the way was my visit to Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem NC.
I first learned about Old Salem while having dinner with Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg. (No joke).
I also heard good things about it from Glen Huey’s book ‘Furniture in the Southern Style’ which draws upon some pieces from MESDA (The Museum of Southern Decorative Arts)
During our visit, my wife and I had a great time exploring the historic area and visiting the many shops and buildings.
As always, the most exciting part for me was visiting with all the craftspeople who work in the various historic trades.
In the Single Brother’s House there were a series of workshops housing various trades that were vital to the community.
I felt right at home in the Joiner’s shop and if my wife would have let me I would have spent my day at the workbench talking to people….
The workshop had a great assortment of jigs, fixtures, tools and unusual benches. Look at the great wedged tenons on the bench above. (Also check out the floating shoulder vise and skirt board with dog holes on the bench further up. Looks like they did not see as much use, but an interesting idea)
The single brother’s house was where young men of a certain age could learn the craft and ply their trade before they got married and moved on to their own homes. In the shoemaker’s shop we had a great chat with a shoemaker who was making a leather bucket which was one of the many other wares a shoemaker would make for the town.
In the potter’s workshop you could see on display a wide variety of earthenware dishes, cups, and other ceramic objects. Most interesting to me were the ceramic tile shingles which you can see in the restored village.
Other trades on display were the gunsmith, apothecary, tailor, tinsmith and gardeners.
If you’d like to learn more about the craftsmen and women who work in the historic trades at Old Salem you can read more here.
If you are ever in the Winston-Salem area I highly recommend visiting Old Salem and checking out the workshops.
When looking at the historic prices of tools, even after converting the dollar amounts into today’s prices it often does not give a truly accurate representation of what a tool really cost the person who bought it. I remember my first job in high school working in a retail clothing store for ~$5 an hour in 1997 which was the minimum wage in NY at the time. If I went to the store to buy something, part of that decision was always based on a calculation of ‘how many hours did I have to work to buy this item?’
I wanted to apply this same logic to some of the tools in the 1900 Sloyd tool chest list we talked about here. I did some research and found that the average carpenter in 1899 made $2.30/day**. So that would mean the Sloyd cabinet full of tools which cost $11.91 would be about a week’s worth of wages to purchase — 5.17 days to be exact.
This summer I had a chance to chat a bit with my cousin, master NYC woodworker James Cooper. (Or as he is known to the family — Jim)
Jim has been working in the craft for a long time and it was great to pick his brain a bit on this topic. I’ll recount some of my interview with him here:
“In 1971 we worked for $4/hr (although we were often wrong in estimating the time required) and the only catalog I could find from that era, 1973, is of a small German American maker of chisels and carving tools where Pattern Maker’s Chisels, 6mm – 30mm, sold for $7.50 – $12.50 ea…….about 2 – 3hrs of labor! Today a competent mechanic in NY can earn $25/ hr and a decent 3/4″ (19mm) chisel can be had for $25 – $40 or rather less work then I exchanged 40 yrs ago. The most important point to emphasize is that whatever the cost, good to great hand tools will last a lifetime+ and, well used and cared for, will feed you for all that time, while never loosing value.
The early 20th Century Bailey 07 plane that I picked up, used but cleaned, at a flee market in 1981 for $100 (which at that time was about the cost of a new British Stanley) is worth $200+ today after my having used it for countless hours to realize 100s of projects over all that time…and it outperformed the British Stanley to boot! The $100 Bailey bought in 1981 was less then a days labor (about $125 / day at that time)!” — Jim Cooper
Taking the 3/4″ firmer gouge as an example I tried to plot it over time, and here are my findings so far:
Avg Pay Rate
Time to earn it
1.48 hours work
$2.30/day, so assuming an 10 hour day for hourly rate at the time
Assumption that during this time was potentially a low water mark for availability of quality tools in the US — all the old makers were on their way out, and new high end tools were only getting started
Based on estimate of about $125/day and assuming a 10 hour day. Price of tool inflation adjusted from 1973 data point. Note also this was the time of a large global recession.
Based on current price of a Henry Taylor 3/4″ in-cannel gouge from Traditional Woodworker which is very similar to that original gouge in the Sloyd tool chest
If any of my readers have some additional data points, I’d be happy to flesh this out more — especially before and after the world wars. So if you have an old tool catalog with prices from an earlier time (especially for a 3/4″ firmer gouge) or recall and are willing to share your pay rate at an earlier time (either hourly or daily) I would be happy to flesh this out more and see what else the data can teach us.
My conclusions based on all of this?
The availability of good quality tools, societies’ willingness to pay a craftsman a fair wage, tax codes, the macro-economic climate and the ability to find work in that field have all fluctuated over time which makes it hard to draw a lot of concrete conclusions without befriending an economist or gathering a lot more data. But having said that, I think all craftsmen and women have at one time or another done the mental calculation of current wage versus the price of that new tool and thought to themselves ‘I really need to charge a higher rate’ 😉
What to you think? There are only so many working hours in a lifetime. Are you spending more on tools today relative to your hourly wage compared to earlier decades? Or are you coping in other ways? (Refurbishing old tools etc which still takes up a lot of time). I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.