An early lesson in carpentry or woodworking in general is to take all of your measurements from a single reference face — this way you don’t get a bunch of accumulated errors that will throw everything off. It makes sense, but what do you do when measuring long distances? or uneven surfaces?
Let’s take a look at this 30 foot long foundation wall I am working on:
In order to lay out the mortises in the sills for the posts I needed to make sure they are in the correct location which was a bit of a challenge.
First off I had to go out and get a 35′ long tape measure. I bought a Milwaukee 35′ Magnetic Tape Measure from Home Depot.
Beyond the length this model has a few nice features I really liked. First and foremost it has a finger protecting stop which is great for people like me that tend to use a thumb as the brake and occasionally get pinched by the end of the tape slamming back into the case. It also has an 8-9′ standoff (distance tape can hold itself out before it bends), a magnet in the end, large hooks and an architect scale (total inches rather than feet) on the bottom of the tape and a supposedly limited lifetime warranty.
I liked it so much I hope to get the 25′ model soon and will retire my Stanley and Stanley Bostitch tapes. You can find the 35′ model here. It’s a bit of a beast, so for everyday use I think the 25′ model will fit better in my tool belt.
In measuring the foundation I found out that its about 1/2″ shy of 30 feet. Other than that I’ve been very happy with how the foundation came out and across its width its consistently 24′ wide as expected.
Laying out the first two sets of mortises from the front of the building was easy and straight forward. The 3rd set is where it got tough as I’d have to bridge the vertical step in the foundation. In order to make that jump I cut a piece of scrap 2×8 and using a level and a square set it exactly on top of the center line for the 2nd set of mortises and clamped it firmly to the cast in place straps.
I could then pull the tape and lay out where that third set of mortises should be and also measure to the end of the building to confirm it matched what I got when just measuring the side of the foundation in a single pull. All the measurements lined up with what I expected, so that was good.
It looks like when the straps were cast in place the concrete contractor measured from the back wall of the building rather than a single reference face and I could see the 1/2″ off they were due to the overall length of the building being off. Thankfully the posts are sufficiently large (6×6) that this won’t be a visible issue.
This all goes to show the value of taking your time and measuring as described above, for if I didn’t do this and laid out the top plates as if the building was an even 30′ long and if I laid out that 3rd set of posts 10′ off the back wall there would be some major problems during the barn raising.
Transitional planes are the pariahs of the woodworking world. The tool collectors don’t want them. Patrick Leach burns them in a funeral pyre. I’ve had a few over the years I got for a song and kept in the shop mostly for decoration.
As I got more into timber framing and working with green timbers it dawned on me that these transitional planes — at least in the jack and jointer sizes might be useful for cleaning up timbers. The large wooden sole doesn’t rust the way a metal plane would when exposed to wet wood for long periods of time and you have a more or less modern Bailey style mechanism. The one annoying thing about the mechanism on a transitional plane is the blade advancement wheel spins the opposite way a metal plane works, but after a few minutes you get used to it.
For some timber frames I need to clean up and remove all the large circular saw or bandsaw marks. In a workshop or outbuilding being fresh from the mill is fine, but in a house all those rough surfaces can be a dust magnet or source of splinters.
On my jack plane I’ve ground a camber appropriate to a jack plane and take a reasonably heavy shaving. The work goes fast and I admit its fun to make a 25′ foot long shaving on some of the largest timbers.
At first I felt bad about using a plane from the 1870s for this sort of work, but if properly maintained it will have a surprisingly long life and I’d rather see this plane get used as opposed to being in a pyre or on a shelf.
At the end of the day I make sure to remove the iron and wipe it down with oil so it does not rust and I’ll usually give the sole a little more wax.
I can usually find these planes in surprisingly good shape for $10-35. If you’re willing to take one with more rust on the mechanism or a replacement sole you can likely get it for even less or even free from some dealers if you buy a few other items. The next time you are at a tool swap you may want to take a second look at a transitional plane and score yourself a good deal on a solid workhorse for your own timber framing or green woodworking projects.
Reading A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook by James Krenov is often considered to be a woodworking rite of passage. And with any worthwhile ritual you don’t want to rush into it.
If you are just starting out in woodworking you’ll want to start with some solid introductory books (Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, Made by Hand by Tom Fidgen, The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years, Understanding Wood by Bruce Hoadley etc. ), get your feet wet, mess up some pieces, experiment with hand and power tools.
Some of your projects will be triumphs, some of them will be failures and all of them will teach you some valuable lessons. After some time behind the bench you’ll more than likely hit a crisis of faith at some point. Are you bored with woodworking? Are you looking for a new design style? How do you rectify using power and hand tools or are you looking to be a hand tool purist? How well do you know the wood you are using? Does your work have any deeper meaning? How do I make a living at this? Will my work survive?
Everyone will have some questions along those lines at some point during their woodworking journey. That’s when it’s time to reach for A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook. This classic book from 1976 will not directly teach you woodworking skills like joinery or finishing techniques, but will provide you with some insights and inspiration that will often stay with you long after you read this book.
For folks that have read this blog for a while you’ve seen me go on about a desire to create items that last, getting away from our disposable culture and finding meaning in our work. Krenov was contemplating the same things back in the 1970s well before I was born, but the way he addresses it is often intoxicating and seeps into your subconscious.
“What I would like to do before it is too late is to get this [message] across to a few craftsmen-to-be who will work after me, and also to a public which will be there to receive them, because we are living in a time when, I believe, this is important, not only aesthetically, as oddities or rarities, but because …. much of our life is spent buying and discarding and buying again, things that are not good. Some of us long to have at least something, somewhere which will give us harmony and a sense of durability — I won’t say permanence, but durability — things that, through the years, become more and more beautiful, things we can leave to our children” — James Krenov, The Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, 1976
I first read the book about 10 years ago when I bought several of Krenovs books as softcover prints based on feedback from some other woodworkers. (With woodworking as my avocation I figured his book The Impractical Cabinetmaker would be right up my alley, but that is a post for another day).
At the time I first read them I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate it. Some insights on detailing and rewarding the curious stayed with me but I wasn’t a full cult member yet.
Back in September I picked up two early hardcover prints of Krenov books at the Nashua Tool show and decided to read this copy of A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook as I was doing some research on folks who taught at the School for American Craftsmen (SAC) and studying Danish and Scandinavian Designs. Over the past decade I also learned more about Krenov’s career, time at SAC, BU (heard funny but less than flattering stories about his time there at my Alma Mater), his time in Sweden, College of the Redwoods etc.
This time out the book really hit home for me. Krenov talks about what drives him as a craftsman and how he often agonizes over the best use of the wood. He’ll take some usage requirements from customers on commissioned work, but wants the freedom to let the wood talk to him and let the design flow. He works in little details to try and create pieces that are visually and tactilely interesting. By dabbling with asymmetry, curves, light/shadow, grain orientation and minimal finishes he’s able to produce interesting pieces that elicit emotions from the viewer. This process results in pieces that only get better with age and use.
The anecdotes in the book also add to the warmth — finding work early on, cats in the shop, revisiting your wood pile for inspiration, using the natural properties of wood and grain to help find the best use for that specific piece of wood to create something long lasting that will make yourself and anyone living with the piece happy.
So if you are in need of an inspirational recharge I recommend reading or re-reading A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.
P.S. I always say that woodworking is often the art of hiding your mistakes. (Sometimes by accentuating the defect with a bead or constructing things in such a way we try and cover up less desirable grain with other forms of joinery etc.) With all the time Krenov talked about fine details, it was interesting to me that the case piece on the cover of the original version of the book had an interesting minor mistake front and center for those who knew to look for it. If you look closely at the image below you’ll see he made 2 passes with a marking gauge at a slightly different setting. I know it is something I’ve done in the past.
That may be why they changed the cover in later reprints, but much like a hidden or asymmetric pull or hidden cubby in a cabinet I think it was an interesting find and also shows that we are all human and even with a minor imperfection here and there we can still produce satisfying results.
I had been friends with Dyami online for several years but this was the first time I got to meet him in person. He’s a real nice guy and also loves to share his passion for woodworking.
If you are not already subscribed to the MWA mailing list or podcast I highly encourage you to do so. It is an all volunteer organization that strives to help keep the craft of woodworking alive and growing.
Here’s a recap of Saturday and Sunday (days 2 &3) of Woodworking in America 2016. Saturday was a fun day of workshops and lectures. I watched a great talk by Caleb James on Danish Modern furniture. Chris Schwarz had a talk about Chairmanning and a talk about his Roman Workbenches. Roy Underhill demonstrated how to make a classic coffin. Mary May demonstrated how to carve volutes, C-Scrolls and other similarly projects. I also had some fun guarding Chris’ low Roman workbench as I helped Roy get it out to his van.
I got to see some more old friends, meet some new ones and meet several friends I knew from being online, but not in person. I got to meet Mike Flaim and had a brief interview with Dyami Plotke of MWA.
In the evening we had an event where we went Rhinegeist Brewery for some very good beer and BBQ followed by a tour of some of the massive underground brewing and beer storage tunnels that are under much of Cincinnati.
Click on any of the images below to click through the images as a slideshow. (if you are viewing this post in an email browser, please click on the post title above to view the post on the website itself)
Another great view of the Cincinnati waterfront.
Caleb James’ excellent presentation on Danish Modern furniture.
Caleb’s traveling tool chest with a large collection of the planes he’s made.
Great Hans Wegner quote
Nicely proportioned stool
A table from Caleb’s presentation we all hope to see in an article at some point.
George Walker’s talk on Designing With Curves
George Walker with his string 2.0
George Walker demonstrating some great, and traditional ways of working with curves
Mary May’s class on carving volutes, C-scrolls and similar things
Sample of a violin scroll
Carving a volute
Mary May Carving a C-Scroll
Mike Siemsens’s Anarchist Tool Chest
Zach Dillinger with his very nice reproduction ottoman.
Zach Dillinger taking questions as the end of one of his workshops.
Quick selfie with my hero, Roy Underhill. It’s always great to see him and he’s very nice to all of us fans.
You know Roy Underhill’s presentation killed — there were a LOT of coffins all over the room.
Chris Schwarz’ talk on Roman Workbenches
Chris demonstrating how versatile the low bench is for preparing stock.
Taller Roman Workbench with Chris hand rasped nuts.
Chris Schwarz’ talk on making a straightforward chair (showing how you don’t need to invest in a lot of fancy chairmanning tools to make a comfortable and nice looking chair)
Chris cutting wedges for his chair leg tenons.
Vampire vise made by my friend Peter Ross for Chris Schwarz’ tall Roman workbench
Double wedged tenons in the Roman Workbenches to close up any gaps.
The nicest bus stop bench in Covington, KY. Guarding Chris’ low Roman workbench as Roy went to get his van.
Selfie while laying on a Roman bench in the middle of a city sidewalk.
Couldn’t help but think of the beginning of the Woodwright’s Shop as Roy walked to the parking garage that looks almost a bit like the streets of Durham, NC 😉
Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati
Enjoying my time at Rhinegeist Brewery with Zach, Jake and others. They even had a beer called ‘Steve’
It was OctoberFest weekend in Cincinnati — the largest outside of Germany. Made my German ancestors happy to try all the brews and see all the folks in Lederhosen and Dirndls.
Folks jousting American Gladiator style in full on lederhosen.
One of our tour guides of the many underground brewery buildings in Cincinnati
Cincinnati Connector Street Cars
Great old sign dating back to the first days of electric in the city (At least according to our guide who was quite a character)
Pig sticker fence. I also really like how the guy restoring this row house painted the CDX on the door to look like a door and even layered it on the windows and painted them to look a bit like sash. Nice touch.
About to enter a spooky underground brewing cave that has even been in some recent movies.
Gives and idea of how big some of these brewers were back in the day, under a large hill in the city.
There might even be a ghost in this photo….
Inside of the hotel lobby. A very big open space
Testing out my new Timbuk2 camera backpack. Worked out great on this trip
A paddlewheel sightseeing boat out on the river.
If you’d like to see my photo recap of the first day of WIA 2016, please check out this earlier post here.
I had a great time at the event and hope to see many of you there next year.
Here’s a recap of my first day at Woodworking In America 2016 — held at the Northern Kentucky Convention in Covington Kentucky which is part of the greater Cincinnati Ohio area.
This was my first time attending this conference and other than a nightmare of a time getting there by plane from NH (Thursday night flight cancelled, the second set of flights Friday at the crack of dawn, missing the connection due to ground staff incompetence and fighting to get on another flight later in the day) and missing the 2/3 of the day’s lectures I still had a very nice first day watching Freddy Roman’s presentation, exploring the brew and browse event, meeting a ton of friends old and new and meeting several online friends in person. I also had a great dinner with a great bunch of folks — Zach Dillinger, Mary May, George Walker and many others.
Click on any of the images below to click through the images as a slideshow. (if you are viewing this post in an email browser, please click on the post title above to view the post on the website itself)
Greetings from Popular Woodworking in America 2016
John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge
Street leading to the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, home to WIA 2016
Freddy Roman giving a talk on sand shading and inlay.
Some of Freddy’s banding stock samples.
Freddy Roman demonstrating some fine detail work.
Sand shaded blanks
Very neat sample board of some incredibly tiny and intricate banding Freddy acquired and has worked from.
Carving close up on big screen
David Thiel of popular woodworking tweaking his camera. I always think photographs of other photographers are fun.
My friend Zach Dillinger at the Mortise and Tenon booth
The new Crucible Tools — hold fast and dividers. Very nice looking.
Paper sector by George Walker and Jim Tolpin
Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney and George walker looking at Brendan’s new sector prototype.
Prototype Sector by Brendan. Definitely going to get one soon.
Joshua Klein and his most excellent Mortise and Tenon Magazine booth
Tico Vogt Toolworks
The large Lee Valley/Veritas booth. Always fun to try out their latest and greatest tools
SAPFM booth with the hand tool olympics. I’m proud to say I did will with my cutting events.
Lie Nielsen Toolworks with Mr. Lie Nielsen himself.
Deneb Puchalski of Lie Nielsen Toolworks giving a demo. Deneb is a great guy and I’ve been buying tools from LN for many years and he’s been my main point of contact for most of it.
Knew concepts marquetry saw
Some of the very nice work by Texas Heritage Woodworks
Jason Thigpen of Texas Heritage Woodworks making a great face.
Some of the very nice work by Texas Heritage Woodworks
Plate 11 Workbench Company
Plate 11 Workbench Company with leg vise and real nice planing stop
Plate 11 Workbench Company planing stop
A nice rocking chair by ne of the exhibitors. Wish I could recall his name, but he was offering online courses, one of which was on making this chair.
The Superior Works 🙂
Up next is a post about the second two days of the conference. I had a great time and hope I can attend it again in 2017.
It can take a long time to make a tent fly — but it’s worth it.
What is a Tent Fly?
A fly refers to the outer layer of a tent or to a piece of material which is strung up using rope as a minimalist, stand-alone shelter. In basic terms, a fly is a tent without walls. Purpose-made stand-alone flies are also sometimes referred to as bivouacs, bivvies, tarpaulins, or hootchies. — Wikipedia
A few years ago I didn’t know what I tent fly was, at least not by name, but on one of my visits to Eastfield Village I saw a nice one that Billy McMillen built and used. On some visits to Colonial Williamsburg I also checked out a huge tent fly that Garland and Ted and the guys had and decided I wanted to build one for myself. I wanted a place to work on timber framing elements out of the sun and rain, a tarpaulin for when we have a party in the yard, maybe a craft fair or a re-enacting event.
I decided to go with a custom made tent fly from Panther Primitives — an outfit Billy and Garland both recommended and big in the re-enacting community for making top quality tents. I went with the 12’x16′ Tent Fly with the 13oz Flame Retardant Sunforger Heavy Duty Canvas. I also had a special request to have grommets and loops so I could support the outer edges of the tent with a series of posts or a post and beams depending on how the fly will be used. I also ordered 16 manila rope sets, heavy duty stakes, a canvas bag for the ropes, bag for the tent and bag for the ropes. The folks at Panther were great to work with and make and excellent product — superior materials and craftsmanship.
With the canvas taken care of it was time for me to build the necessary posts to support this tent. Like any good woodworking project it starts at your wood supplier. I went to my perennial favorite — Highland Hardwoods in Brentwood NH. I carefully selected some straight grained 8/4 Eastern White Pine. I ripped the pieces to rough size, power planed and jointed each of the pieces and removed the mill marks with a hand plane.
The center of the tent is supported by a larger beam –12.5′ long and roughly 2″x4″ — with a rounded over top. This beam is made from two pieces joined in the center with a simple metal connecting collar.
For each of the 2″x2″ upright support posts I routed in stop chamfers and used a 1/8″ radius rounding bit to break and square edges.
I then removed any mill marks from the routing. With 14 6′ tall posts and two 9′ tall posts it took a while to get all the woodworking up to this stage.
Next up was cutting 3/8″ metal rods to about 6″ long for each of the 6′ posts. The two 9′ tall posts needed 9″ long metal rods.
Once cut with an abrasive cut off wheel I rounded over the ends/corners of the rods on a slow speed grinder.
The mild steel rods from the hardware store are prone to rusting and have a bit of a modern look to my eye, so I cleaned them off with alcohol and then applied Super Blue (Gun Blue) to ends of the rod that would be exposed. The dark gray/black patina looked like older ironwork to my eye and at the least darkened all the freshly exposed steel from the cutting and grinding process. I’d also advise sealing it after that fact — with some lacquer or similar clear film finish that won’t react with he metal.
I used a center finder gauge to mark where I should be drilling a 3/8″ diameter hole, 3 inches deep into the end of the posts.
I also used a doweling jig keep the drill bit straight as I drilled into the ends of the posts.
In order to accurately and repeatably drill to that depth and use the doweling jig which is pretty thick I needed to use two drills with the same size of bit. The drill (upper tool in photo below) is used with the jig to drill as deep as it will go. The drill is removed along with the jig. The impactor (lower tool in photo below) has a bit with an appropriately set stop collar to control the depth is used to complete the hole. The initial hole created using the drill and doweling jig provide a nice guide for the impactor + stop collared bit to reach the required depth.
I then test fit/cleaned out the holes and glue the rods into place. (Make sure the blackened end is exposed). Ideally you want to use a high quality epoxy like the West System 2 part epoxy. I also installed tapered rubber washers from Panther that will help keep water out and keep the grommets where you want them on the metal rods.
The freshly milled eastern white pine pine is a very pale white.
To give the wood a more pleasing color I gave it a coat or two of amber shellac. I then followed that up with two coats of a UV stabilized General Finishes satin polyurethane, sanding between coats as need.
With the woodworking complete it was time to join the top beam together using the metal bracket. Use two large pan head screws to secure the wood into the connector. Also drill two holes through the top beam for the pins to pass through.
Insert the two 9′ posts into the vertical holes in the top beam. When I did the metal working I initially put the same 6′ metal rods into the 9′ tall posts, but realized the rod would not stick out the top of the beam, so I had to add 9″ rods to the other ends of the 9′ posts, but this worked out great as the accidental shorter rods now on the bottom of the tall posts help keeps the posts from kicking out when you are trying to stand up and secure the posts.
Drape the canvas over the top of the beam and carefully raise it to an upright position — you’ll want a helper for this. With the posts, beam and canvas in an upright position you’ll want your helper to keep it standing up while you secure the storm ropes — attaching them first to a stake you have to drive into the ground (with the stake angled away from the tent) with a heavy mallet, then to the rod on top of the post. Then use the wood block on the rope set to tighten up the rope.
Next install the corner posts and install 2 rope sets on each corner deployed at 90 degrees from each other.
Then install any additional posts you want to use. I built enough posts to fill every grommet on the canvas. Every other post on the side of the tent also got a single rope set and stake to further anchor the test to the ground. If you find your self coming and going through the lower side of the ten you can remove 1 or more of those side posts to give you better access.
With a new canvas and rope sets you’ll want to check the ropes every day as things will stretch a bit and can get loose. Eventually they’ll stabilize and you can enjoy the use of your new tent fly.
The 9′ high ridge beam and 6′ high ends are a bit higher than average but allowed me to walk in and out of the tent with ease and gave me a good size work space under the protection of the tent.
It was a lot of work and a lot of fun to put together and I look forward to a long useful life for this tent.
P.S. If you build your own tent fly, please tell us about it in the comments below.
Time for my semi-annual post about the Nashua ‘Live Free or Die’ Tool Show and Auction. Wait, didn’t that happen back in April? Yep. I’m really behind on my blogging as I have been busy working, writing, teaching and helping with our second baby. Having two kids under 2 years old is definitely exhausting. So there will be a few posts here and there out of time as I work through my backlog.
A new vendor/booth I had not seen before was the Tool Testing and Sharpening Station that was put on by the Veteran Woodworkers Association — a great place to sharpen and test out your new tool purchase.
It was an overcast day with the threat of rain so I think turnout was a little lower than average and my new job is a lot further away from home so I didn’t get to spend as much time at the show as I normally do.
There was not a lot that jumped out at me this year, but one vendor had a pretty extensive collection of native and ancient tools. He also had a lot of tools made from ivory and bone.
It was amazing to see some of the detail on these early tools.
I almost made it out of the show without spending much at all but then two items caught my eye. The first was this nice Post Drill by Buffalo Forge. The drill looked complete, exceptionally clean (possibly restored but can’t tell for sure, so if it was restored it was a while ago). Even has a nice heavy vise grip style hold down — assuming that was a later addition, but works great and useful. It looks like this was one of the later produced models by the Buffalo Forge.
I’m in the process of building a timber frame barn and want to get a bit more into Blacksmithing (took some classes at Prospect Hill Forge and down in NC with Peter Ross) and would love to dabble in it a bit more. Once the barn is standing I know right where this drill will get mounted. The drill gets mounted on a heavy post, hence the name and is powered by hand crank. You can adjust the throw of the crank lever. You can also turn the mechanism using the heavy fly wheel on the left but in general that is more to help keep momentum going. This model also has a gearing mechanism on top that will advance the drill bit as you turn the drill and is useful when drilling metal.
The same vendor also had a nice Leg Vise used for Blacksmithing that also caught my eye. The vendor was not at the booth and after waiting around for 15 or 20 minutes and going by some very VERY vague descriptions of what the seller looked like from neighboring booths, I posted my friend Ken (Thank you Ken 🙂 ) at the booth to keep an eye on my new treasures and went into the auction to search.
As it turned out it was my friend Josh Clark of HyperKitten fame.
It’s a nice big leg vise with some nice details, working spring, reasonably clean jaws and still a good amount of life left in the screw.
The vise had nice chamfered and some filed details and has a named stamp in it which reads “Goldie. 133 Attorney Street”.
After doing some online research and in particular finding this post on a forum I was able to learn a little bit about this vise.
“From the above post by Frank Turley (Which had a lot of great pictures which have gone MIA, but matched my vise above) I
The raised letter markings are “GOLDIE” AND “133 ATTORNEY.” He googled and found that the maker was Joseph Goldie located at 133 Attorney Street, New York, NY. I found Goldie in my Directory of American Toolmakers as a maker of “anvils, rules, and vises,” 1842-1849. The son, Joseph Goldie, Jr., made “miniature vises and anvils,” probably for jewelers. The big vise has the wrap-around U-shackle with its split and splayed mounting bracket. It has chamfered legs and pivot beam. It has a nicely turned “bell shape” on the screw box, not too unlike the Peter Wright’s.
The tenoned vises were “composites.” The box was a forge welded tube with a coil of square-sectioned stock brazed within for the internal threads. The stops, to keep it from turning. usually two, were brazed on.The external portion of the box was composed of perhaps 3 rings that were brazed together and then lathe turned. A careful cleaning will sometimes show lines of brass left from the original brazing. These old vises rarely exceeded a 4 1/2″ jaw width.
The tenon for the mount was often rectangular in section going through a hole in the fixed leg. This necessitated having a hole in the leaf spring. To tighten the assembly, the tenon had a carefully placed slot in it to receive a wedge.
The pivot beam usually had an unthreaded, headed bolt with slot to receive a wedge, not a nut and bolt. If there is a nut and bolt, it was probably added at a later date.
My pictured vise has a jaw width of 4 5/16″ and an overall length of 36″ — Frank Turley
All in all it was a good show, I saw a lot of old friends, picked up a couple of fun new tools for the shop and I look forward to the September show which is fast approaching.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” — Wizard of Oz
Back in May I spent a couple of days in Cincinnati Ohio on my way down to Harrodsburg Kentucky for the EAIA Annual Meeting and a quick stop in Covington Kentucky on my way home to visit with some of my woodworking friends in the area.
My first stop was at the Popular Woodworking offices and studio to see Megan Fitzpatrick and David Thiel who graciously showed me around.
The office building while nondescript from the outside contained an interesting space on the inside. A mixture of office space, editing bays, studio/soundstage and a woodworking shop.
I visited the shop area with backdrop you may recognize from several woodworking videos. The timber framer in me wants to push up that simulated plate and add some braces. 🙂
In the warehouse space you could see several projects from Popular Woodworking and American Woodworker magazine. If only we had room in the car to buy one and bring it home.
In the studio area I was able to see another F+W project video being recorded.
Out in the woodworking shop I felt right at home. There was a large machine and bench room. In the corner I could see Megan’s workbench and the windows you may recognize from many an article and post from Popular Woodworking over the years.
I was too busy talking David’s ear off and didn’t take a picture of him to include in the post, but I’ll make sure to take one next time I am in town.
On the way home from our trip I also stopped in Covington KY (right across the Ohio river from Cincinnati OH) to visit Chris Schwarz at the Lost Art Press storefront. The storefront is a nice historic building that used to be a saloon in a part of Covington that reminds me a bit of Brooklyn — lots of history, artists, hipsters, good restaurants etc.
After watching the build out via many of Chris’ blog posts it was neat to see it in person and to see several of Chris’ recent pieces in person.
You may recall the Aumbry above from the cover of a Popular Woodworking issue earlier this year and from the Anarchist’s Design Book.
I’ve always wanted to make some Shaker Oval Boxes. I love a good challenge and learning a new woodworking skill. Back in May I attended the Early American Industries Association (EAIA) annual meeting which was held at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, KY.
In preparing for the meeting I figured a nice set of Shaker oval boxes would be a solid addition to the EAIA’s silent auction.
In order to gather up the correct supplies and learn how to make a proper oval box I reached out to John Wilson of Michigan who is a well known expert on making these boxes.
From John you can order an instructional DVD, book and templates along with supplies for the boxes and other related projects (baskets, trays etc). In this post I won’t go through all the steps necessary to make these boxes, but I will cover a highlight reel of some of the more interesting steps in the hopes it will whet your appetite for making some boxes yourself. (Links provided at the end of this post)
First off I laid out the templates for all the bands I wanted to bend into boxes and box tops. For this project I used Cherry. Then I pre-drilled the holes for the copper tacks.
Next up was filling the copper steam box with water and heating it up. under the box is a double burner electric hotplate and blocks to keep the tray steady on the burners. When using Cherry you may also want to use distilled water as minerals in your tap water can leave some stains.
I then steam the ends of the bands, cut the tapers in the end with the tack holes and feathered the other end of the bands on the belt sander.
After letting the bands steam I pulled them out one at a time to wrap around the appropriate sized form and marking the overlap. Then remove it from the form and hold the band tightly in place at that same size marked while you take it over to the heavy round pipe anvil and clinch the tiny copper tacks in place to secure the band. This set of forms is a large block of basswood in the size and shape you want the box to be.
I had never clinched a tiny copper tack before so I grabbed a shim and practiced with a few tacks of each size on the anvil. After a tack or two you’ll get a good feel for it.
I got a rhythm going and could feel/read how the tack was going in and move it on the anvil relative to my hammering to make sure I got the tack head nice and even with the surface and got a nice clean clinch on the inside.
With the band tacked the next step was to get them over to the second set of forms to dry. These forms are two blocks of wood also in the shape of the box, similar to the first form, but these forms have a tapered edge profile and holes to let air/water in and out and give your fingers a place to pull the forms out from when they are dry.
The bottom band is steamed, tacked and setup on the second set of forms. The top band is wrapped around the bottom band on the form. The goal is to get a nice tight fit and line up the tack holes.
Let the bands dry for a day or two and then it is time to fit the tops and bottoms into the bands. Trace your band onto the top or bottom blank, cut it near the line on the bandsaw and then use a fixed disc sander with the table set at a few degrees under 90 and sand them to shape and test fit as you go. You don’t want any gaps or spaces between the band and the top or bottom.
I got all the tops and bottoms fitted before moving on to the next step.
Next up was testing out a special drilling jig to make pin holes for attaching the tops and bottoms to the bands. There is no glue in these boxes.
The pins that will secure the bands to the top and bottom blanks are made from hardwood toothpicks that are cut in half on a band saw.
I made pencil dots where I wanted the pins to be, fired up the drill in this jig and made all the pin holes.
For very tiny boxes with thin tops and bottoms I made a tape loop out of blue painters tape and taped some thin cardboard onto the face of the jig to center the holes in the thickness of the top or bottom of the box.
The pins are then tapped into place, clipped off and then sanded on the belt sander to remove any protruding pin left and make sure the bands are level with the tops and bottoms.
The boxes nest inside of each other similar to a Russian Nesting Doll. This made it easier to bring 5 boxes on the very long, and very full car ride from NH to KY with my wife, two babies and me.
At this point the boxes all have a bit of a dull fuzzy look about them.
I gently hand sanded all the boxes and made sure the top and bottom fit the way I wanted. They should have a nice snug fit, but not too tight nor too loose.
All the corner edges, and inside and out of the box get a final sanding and cleanup. Then time for the finish. I applied Tung Oil to the boxes to bring out the grain in the Cherry and finished it off with a couple of coats of amber shellac. Each box is also signed, dated and notes that they were part of the 2016 EAIA annual meeting.
I was very pleased with how well the boxes turned out especially given this was the first time I ever made shaker oval boxes.
I was also glad to hear EAIA members also liked them as my set of boxes in sizes 0-4 turned out to be the second highest grossing item in the EAIA silent auction and I was humbled to receive the plaque below.
I know they went to a good home, the home of Judy and Bill McMillen of Eastfield Village and Richmond Hill fame and good friends of mine. I’m also happy to report I was able to win the auction for some of the items Billy made as well including a Tin-Smithed dustpan my wife and I both had been wanting for a while when we saw one that Billy made at a prior event, but that is a post for another time.
I had a great time making the boxes and we all had a great time at the annual meeting. I had wanted to visit Pleasant Hill Shaker Village for a long time and I’m glad I finally got to see it and spend the better part of a week living in the village.
If you’d like to make some Shaker Oval Boxes of your own, please check out the link to John Wilson’s website below along with links to more information on Pleasant Hill Shaker Village and the EAIA.