Hand Tool Luggage — A Better Saw Till

How often have you seen saws just tossed in with other tools in a box or bucket? For how much money you spend on a good quality saw and for the results you expect out of it there is no excuse for abusing the saw in transit. A saw banging around in a tool box can get bent, dull, have the set of the teeth get out of alignment etc.  Described below is how I solved this problem for my saws in the shop and out on the job site.

Saw Till with Handle and Safety Strap
Saw Till with Handle and Safety Strap

The traditional way a saw was transported around was in a saw till. They often took on many forms — sometimes as part of a larger tool chest, attached to the inside of the lid of a larger tool box, as a stationary wall cubby or cabinet or as its own portable unit. For me the portable unit was a great place to start. I made a pair of tills that are shown in the photos below.

Saw Till Construction Detail
Saw Till Construction Detail

The carcass of my saw till is similar to one we used at NBSS. It’s made of 1/2″ plywood sides, 3/4″ plywood top, 1/4″ plywood dividers. I took it further by sanding, rounding the corners and finishing it with Shellac and Wax. The real improvements I made were the addition of a carry handle and safety strap. The strap is nylon like you would use on a backpack — I used my sewing machine to sew returns on the straps, attached them to the side of the till with button studs and used a nice plastic clasp to connect the two sides. This strap is pulled through the open D handles on the saws and keeps them from falling out. The plastic clasp allows you to change the size of the strap as your arsenal of saws changes over time and allows for quick access. When mounting the handle do your best to locate it in such a way that it balances nicely when loaded up with saws — it will be easier on your wrists and will keep the saws where they belong.

Saw Till In Its Natural Setting
Saw Till In Its Natural Setting

This is a great weekend shop project and I hope you will consider building one. The size and shape of the sides should be dictated by the largest saw you plan to put in your till. If you do build your own, please do share your pics or posts with me and we can link them to this post.

Woodworking at 55 MPH

Woodworking comes in many forms and has many specialties. One of the more interesting niche areas of woodworking is the dedicated group of craftsmen restoring and maintaining Woodie Wagons. (The iconic cars of the 1950s and popularized by many a movie and the surfer culture) One such craftsman is my friend Steve O’Shaughnessy who is also the head of the Preservation Carpentry Department at the North Bennet Street School.

When visiting the the shop the other day I took some quick pics of his current project which is the restoration of a 1952 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon. Back in the 1950s some of this woodworking and maintenance was performed by the local Buick dealership — imagine that today?

Steve has been meticulous in going through all the body and mechanical systems and cataloging all of the original wooden parts of the car. Since then he has systematically been replicating the wood pieces from Ash using a combination of his duplicarver system, skill and perseverance — as many of the pieces have delicate compound angles that have to fit just right in order for everything to line up. He was able to consolidate the original pieces and use them as templates when fabricating the new parts, but even with those templates on hand it still takes a lot of work to get it all fitting tight.

When he’s done he’ll have a classic show car and a piece of fine furniture he can drive down the highway at 55MPH — I can’t wait to see it completed.

Why don’t you sit down and have something to eat? — Kitchen Bench

I fired up the way-back machine again to visit another project from the past — a solid hard maple kitchen bench. This was an interesting commission in that it had to fit a specific alcove in a new kitchen, stand up to life with a busy family and provide some additional storage. The other challenge was tying into the kitchen, keeping a shaker look and incorporating details from the room like beadboard.

To protect the fingers of small children from the large lid I chose to use toybox/safety hinges which do not allow the lid to slam down. The unit also lives right in front of a large baseboard heating element so the bottom (inner shelf) of the bench’s storage area had sufficient spacing between the members and clearance off the ground to allow the heat to rise around the unit and leave sufficient room for the wood to move without checking or breaking.

The piece is constructed of hard maple and finished with water based poly and hand rubbed wax. The beadboard was solid maple as well and all made by hand and ship lapped — that was a LOT of work, but much better than pre-made or pressed panels.

Let There Be Light — Installing New Hand Built Windows

In many posts we’ve talked about why old windows are worth saving and how to build or restore  sash for them, but not much on what it would take to build a new window complete with jamb and trim and install it.

Completed window installed in the side of the barn
Completed window installed in the side of the barn

A while back I had just such an opportunity when working on the timber framed barn workshop of my friend Rich. Much of the work for these windows took place in the shop — building traditional single hung (one moving sash) true divided light windows. A hand built window can offer a VERY long service life, be easily repaired and often look much better than anything you can buy commercially. The ability to build a new jamb to go along with your sashes will allow you to really fine tune the movement of the windows, the exact choice of hardware — if any and allow you to create a distinctive look for your home.

Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.
Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.

Once the shop work was completed, the jamb is complete, the sash are fitted, glazed and the paint has dried it was time to install the completed window unit into the barn.  When working on a timber framed barn you’ll want to make sure you’ve carefully laid out where you want the windows to go — you generally do not want your window obstructed by braces or other framing members. You’ll also want to make sure that you have added in sufficient nailers and/or studs so that your window can be firmly attached to the building.

These hand built windows, complete with jamb, sills, casing and leaded flashing install much the same way you would install an Anderson or Pella new construction drop in window. You’ll want to take the same time and effort to level the window, add insulation if needed, and flash out the window. Once installed you can trim out the interior of the window to blend with the interior surfaces.

Me posing with the newly installed window
Me posing with the newly installed window

If you’ve invested the time to learn how to build a traditional window sash, building an entire window as described here can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience — plus with these new found skills you can go off and build a window of any size and shape.

Below is a quick slideshow of the above windows being installed into a timber framed barn.

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NBSS Graduation Revisited

It’s that time of year again for Dads and grads and I was asked what NBSS graduation was like. Since I was not able to attend this year’s ceremony in person I will have to post some pictures of what it was like when I graduated.

Like so many other activities at NBSS, graduation is another event with lots of history. The day starts out with a meet and greet at the School where students can show of some of the fruits of their labors. Then over to the adjacent Old North Church of Paul Revere fame for the graduation ceremony. You can feel the excitement in the air and sense the history as everyone packs into the church.

There are several speakers including school administration, the guest speaker, and the Distinguished Alumni Award winner, then it’s on to the diplomas and celebrations. Last year and again this year we had great weather.

Below is a gallery of some key moments from that day.

Next post, back to woodworking. 🙂

NBSS Distinguished Alumni Award Winner: Brent Hull PC ’93

One of the many traditions at the North Bennet Street School is recognizing a distinguished member of the alumni community each year at the graduation ceremony. With so many talented individuals coming out of the school it is often hard to choose just one person, and this year was no exception.  As part of the alumni council we each presented candidates from our own department(s) to the other members of the council and the school administration and at the end of the meeting took a vote.

This year I am happy to report that we have our first Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA) winner from the Preservation Carpentry Department — Brent Hull.

Brent Hull (left) and Robert Adam (right)
Brent Hull (left) and Robert Adam (right)

Brent was part of the class of 1993 and studied under Robert Adam. After graduating he returned to his native Texas and started his own company. From a modest beginning working in his brother’s garage, and a lot of hard work, Brent went on to build the Hull group of companies, which now employs over 50 artisans and related staff. He runs a successful construction and consulting firm, is the exclusive millworks provider for the Winterthur museum, has restored historic courthouses in Texas and worked on many private residences including those of Barbara Streisand. Beyond the commercial success, Brent has also been a prolific writer in the field of traditional interior designs and moldings publishing several books on these topics. Brent also enjoys educating his customers and the general public via teaching forums on the merits of traditional design and craftsmanship.

Brent Hull Speaking to both PC Classes
Brent Hull Speaking to both PC Classes

The day before graduation, Brent stopped by the Arlington shop to speak with the PC ’12 and ’13 classes. He shared his thoughts on what he enjoyed most about the program, shared some hard learned lessons, tips on how to start a business and select customers and some guidance around areas students should learn more about after graduating.

Rich Friberg, Bill Rainford, Brent Hull, Robert Adam (left to right)
Rich Friberg, Bill Rainford, Brent Hull, Robert Adam (left to right)

Above, second year instructor Rich Friberg PC’04, Bill Rainford PC’11, Brent Hull PC’93 and Robert Adam long time PC department head and founder of the program gather in the office to celebrate the day. Robert also shared some of his wisdom with the students and reminded those who are from outside of New England that it has been his experience that the further students get away from Boston the more successful they often are given the concentration of graduates in the immediate area.  This was great news for many of our students from around the country and abroad who will be going home with a great set of skills.

Johnathan Ericson handing out his Attendance Awards / Scholarship
Johnathan Ericson handing out his Attendance Awards / Scholarship. Accepting the award is Frank Di Francesco PC’12

Rounding out the afternoon, Johnathan Ericson PC’11 gave out the Attendance Awards / Scholarship that he started last year. It consists of a certificate and scholarship for those students who maintained a record of perfect attendance while a PC student. The message is clear — that hard work and dedication to show up each and every day is something that should be rewarded and will help new graduates when they get out into the field.

Congratulations to Brent and the PC Class of 2012 — you have a bright future ahead of you!

A Staircase for Very Skinny People

As a student at the North Bennet Street School, one of the many projects Preservation Carpentry students have to complete is the staircase model. The project is a great exercise for students as they each get to walk through the process of building a staircase from end to end. The only caveat is that the stair treads are only about 18″ wide since going full size in width does not add much to the learning experience and makes it feasible to have 10+ staircases in a single classroom.

Rough stringers in place
Rough stringers in place

Above we start off laying out and cutting the rough stringers and then move through each stage until we have a completed staircase. This is one of the projects wherein the students have some design freedom in how they want to trim out the staircase. Some were very modern and minimalist, some very plain vanilla with all square stock, some very traditional.

Turned walnut ballusters
Turned walnut balusters

I am an avid turner and had done a lot of finish carpentry before coming to the school so as a challenge to myself I decided I wanted to turn my own newel posts and balusters and finish off the piece as if it was installed in a house. It was a lot of extra effort, but a great experience. Once completed my staircase model was on display as part of the NBSS annual student works show and exhibit.

You can see the completed project here:

Completed staircase model
Completed staircase model

If you are interested in seeing a time lapse of how this staircase was built, please check out the slide show below:

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Making a Case for Building Traditional Window Sash by Hand

An important part of the Preservation Carpentry curriculum at the North Bennet Street School is working with traditional window sash. In earlier posts we’ve talked a lot about restoring old window sashes, but what about new work? Or a sash that is too far gone or not worth restoring? The best option is likely fabricating traditional window sash yourself. The task may seem formidable, but with some practice anyone with the time and determination can do it. I find the work to be quite enjoyable.

Completed sash with glazing in place
Completed sash with glazing in place

Having worked on many historic windows, and new factory made windows I definitely prefer earlier period windows (17th and 18th century). In our modern ‘throw away’ world most folks look at an old wooden window with disdain and are eager to toss them in the trash and get vinyl replacement windows. If I had my way that would be a crime against historic buildings. The media has everyone believing that modern windows are far more energy efficient and easier to live with compared to old windows and that is a view based on ignorance and marketing greed. I spent several years living in a rental house with brand new replacement vinyl windows and while they were only mid-range windows they were disgustingly drafty, hard to operate, could not be fixed if you broke a pane, and took away from the appearance of the home. A properly built and maintained traditional window can last for 100 years or more — a claim no modern window supplier would ever dare to claim. The key to the system is that ALL the pieces of traditional windows were of wood and designed so they could be regularly serviced and easily replaced — and since they are primarily wood the replacement parts are easily fabricated. Good luck finding a part of a manufactured window that far into the future.

Rich Friberg and Brom Synder fine tuning a muntin
Rich Friberg and Brom Synder fine tuning a muntin

Even though wooden sash may look delicate, you’d be surprised how strong they really are. The profiles are designed to look lighter than they really are, and when you start to add the glazing etc you’d be amazed how solid the sash will feel. A properly built window will have the necessary flashing in place and will not have any drafts or leakage. As the seasons change, open up and regularly inspect your windows. If you are concerned about stirring up lead dust on old windows, contact a window restoration or preservation specialist — and make sure they are EPA RRP licensed to do the work in accordance with the law. If your windows are sound but you’d like to try and bump up the efficiency of your home’s envelope, consider adding traditional style storm windows — which can be either interior or exterior style or both and should be divided light patterns that match your existing windows — try to avoid the aluminum clad plate glass style they have in the big box stores.

PRESERVATION TIP:

If you are living with an old window in your home that sticks — remove and inspect the sash. The sides of the window sash (aka the stiles) should NOT have any paint on the edges that run against the jamb. If you find your sticky window has paint on it, you should look to remove the paint from that edge and the jamb (in accordance with EPA RRP regulations) and then carefully wax those surfaces. The paint has thickness which makes it harder to move the window and with humidity can often get sticky/gummy. Make sure that you are careful when removing the paint from your sash that you do not also remove wood — you can’t replace it once its gone and you don’t want to wind up with a drafty window.

Setting the mirror with glazing points
Setting the mirror with glazing points

The skills you learn when making a window sash can be applied to make other areas of woodworking. Above is a nice little wall hung mirror I made for my wife out of some extra materials I had. This same skills can be used to make glass cabinet doors, full size mirrors, cases, doors, etc.

If you’d like to see the process of building your own window sash, please check out the slideshow below which walks through the process (you can see many NBSS PC2 students in action):

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Running custom molding by hand

What do you do when you need to tie into a non-stock molding? Or a very short run of custom or carved molding?

You make it yourself of course!

Making a short run of custom molding is often faster, and definitely cheaper than having a custom knife  or bit fabricated. The next time you need a short run of molding I highly encourage giving this a try.

Below are some photos walking through the process of creating a short run of custom molding. This piece is an interesting bit of crown molding with a carved rope pattern and dentils. I think the ‘carved’ rope on the original was pressed in by machine, which is why I like my hand carved section even more than the original.

The process I followed:

  • Draw your profile on both ends of the piece
  • Rough in as much as you can via machine —  like the table saw to save yourself time and effort
  • Use hollows and rounds (wooden molding planes) to get the curves
  • Square up your rabbet for the dentil
  • Cut the dental on the table saw, align it where you want and affix it to the piece
  • Walk off your carved pattern using dividers and pencils
  • Carve out your rope pattern
  • Enjoy your finished work 🙂

2 Bay English Style Barn Raising at Brookwood Farm

On Friday 5/18/12 I was able to participate in an unusual barn raising at the Brookwood Farm in Canton MA. It was the culmination of several years of work by North Bennet Street School students and instructors. The barn is unusual in that it is one of, if not the oldest known surviving 2 bay English style timber framed barns in New England. (I documented some of the history in earlier posts on this topic if you are interested) The barn is also interesting in how it was framed — with 2 bays being asymmetric and an interesting use of rafters and purlins.

Rich overseeing construction
Rich overseeing construction

As a student I worked on the floor system (joists and sills) along with hewing some of the replacement gunstock posts from solid oak along with milling LOTs of material that will be used to side and otherwise finish this barn. The class year before my class they worked on documenting the barn, labeling and  dissembling the barn and working on the floor system. The class years to follow worked on restoring other members of the frame, laying up the foundation and now the raising.

School van in front of the barn frame
School van in front of the barn frame

The completed frame contains a mixture of original materials and new oak which was hand hewn and carefully cut to replace rotted materials. The result is a piece of local history that is now preserved for future generations (as it will likely be the focal point for many events at Bookwood Farm — known for its Maple Sugar Days)

Below you can see a series of photos capturing the raising and some other interesting sights from the big day:

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