Category Archives: Historic Places

Posts related to Historic Places of interest

2013 BAC Traditional Building Intensive

Most people relax on their summer vacation. After a day on a beach I get antsy and need to keep moving, exploring and building. For the second year in a row I spent my vacation last week sharing my passion for the craft by teaching the 8 day intensive that is part of the semester long ‘Traditional Building’ class I teach at the Boston Architectural College (BAC) in association with the North Bennett Street School.

The Paul Revere House, Boston, MA
The Paul Revere House, Boston, MA

The class is part of the low residency Master’s Degree in Historic Preservation at the BAC. In this 8 week long class, 7 weeks are online with a series of interactive lectures/discussions and traditional coursework and one 8 day week is spent with the entire class in Boston participating in a hands on format. This works great for students who need to juggle work, family and other obligations while also seeking a quality degree on the way to a new or expanded career path.

Touring historic homes and buildings with Steve O'Shaughnessy
Touring historic homes and buildings with Steve O’Shaughnessy

On the first full day of class we took a walking tour of the city with Steve O’Shaughnessy (NBSS Preservation Carpentry Instructor) visiting several historic house museums and notable structures in Boston. Having worked for Historic New England, Steve is an excellent tour guide with a lot of great information to share.

Traditional Woodworking with Bill Rainford
Traditional Woodworking with Bill Rainford

The second day I spent the morning teaching the basics of traditional woodworking — using a smoothing plane, molding planes, drilling, chiseling and other basic bench work.

Field Work at Fenway Studios
Field Work at Fenway Studios

In the afternoon I taught the class about window restoration, window reproduction and condition assessment reports. We then went out to do some field work at the historic Fenway Studios.

The Saugus Ironworks
The Saugus Ironworks

Next up we visited the Saugus Ironworks which is a National Historic Park. Senior Park Ranger Curtis White was on hand to guide us through this landmark site and enthusiastically share with us his latest research about historic ironwork. (He’s a great resource and if you ever visit the park and run into him, tell him I sent you. )

Ranger Curtis White explaining how the ironworks produced iron
Ranger Curtis White explaining how the ironworks produced iron

Robert Adam (Who started the Preservation Carpentry program at NBSS and is a noted preservation consultant) lectured about historic hardware and fasteners.

Robert Adam talking about historic hardware and fasteners
Robert Adam talking about historic hardware and fasteners

Robert’s brings a portion of his comprehensive collection of historic hardware and fasteners allowing students to closely examine these items up close and differentiate fine details.

Historic Hardware by Edward Guy
Historic Hardware by Edward Guy

Sara Chase, a nationally known paint analysis expert and preservation consultant (+ advisor to the NBSS Preservation Carpentry Program) taught a session on traditional paints and their manufacture.

Making paint with Sara Chase
Making paint with Sara Chase

During this hands on session students not only learned how to identify various kinds of historic paints they also had the chance to mix their own paints in a traditional way and try their hand at applying them.

Mulling historic paint with Sara Chase
Mulling historic paint with Sara Chase

After a visit to the MFA in Boston, next up was NBSS Preservation Carpentry Instructor Rich Friberg to teach the basics of Timber Framing.

Rich Friberg Timber Framing Lesson
Rich Friberg Timber Framing Lesson

Rich brings with him a deep well of knowledge and a passion for teaching this craft.

Jennifer wielding the 'Beetle' mallet
Jennifer wielding the ‘Beetle’ mallet

Students had a chance to layout and cut mortise and tenon joints….

Joey with the 'Commander' mallet
Joey with the ‘Commander’ mallet

try out some joinery on the large scale with traditional timber framing tools…

Lisa mortising
Lisa mortising

and fit the joints they made.

Completed Timber Frame Sill
Completed Timber Frame Sill

The completed 8′ x 10′ sill shown above would be the first major element of a modest sized barn or outbuilding.

Matt Gillard teaching some basics of Masonry
Matt Gillard teaching some basics of Masonry

Preservation Mason Matt Gillard (owner of Colonial Brick Works) and Matt Blanchette gave a great lecture on traditional masonry tools, techniques and evolution.

Rachel cleaning off some recovered bricks
Rachel cleaning off some recovered bricks

This hands on session allowed students to mix traditional mortar, clean bricks, re-point, repair, lay brick and joint mortar.

Masonry group shot
Masonry group shot

At the end of the week the students also shared their presentations and research proposals. To celebrate the end of this very intensive week the Director of the Historic Preservation (HP) program Robert Ogle presented each student with an ‘I survived the HP intensive week 2013 @ the BAC’ Tee Shirt to commemorate the occasion. This well earned reward is one of three major intensives they will need to survive in order to complete the program.

'I survived the BAC Historic Preservation Intensive 2013' Tee Shirts
‘I survived the BAC Historic Preservation Intensive 2013’ Tee Shirts

Given that we all survived this very intensive week and you survived reading this marathon blog post, I think it’s time for all of us to rest up and prep for next year. 🙂

You can learn more about this class and the program here or go direct to the video here.

-Bill

Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

Have you ever felt like your life was just too hectic? Do you want to get away from the world and relax?

If so, then you can imagine how Thomas Jefferson felt as the 3rd President of the United States. Jefferson was a man who enjoyed his privacy.  After decades of public service as a congressman, founding father, diplomat, Governor, Vice President and President, folks from around the world regularly called on him — including a seemingly never ending stream of gawkers and tourists peering in his windows.

Front portico of Poplar Forest
Front portico of Poplar Forest

This made it hard for him to find peace and quiet to pursue his diverse set of interests and be alone with his family. While President he found the time to design a retreat villa at Poplar Forest in what is now Forest VA. Based on the classical designs of European retreat villas and lessons learned from earlier architectural projects like Monticello and the University of Virginia, Poplar Forest is considered to be Jefferson’s apex in terms of design.

3/4 View of the main house at Poplar Forest
3/4 View of the main house at Poplar Forest

Jefferson enjoyed his time at Poplar Forest during the last 20 years of his life where he was able to ‘seek the solitude of a hermit’. The drive up to the mansion gives you a taste of how secluded this house was designed to be, though for the lucky few who visited, that first glimpse of the house at it appeared ahead of them must have been breathtaking. The house also gives an interesting look into the private life of this very public figure.

The restored roofline and building footprint
The restored roof-line and building footprint

During Jefferson’s time the house was largely unknown to the outside world. After his death the house and a portion of the lands were left to his grandson Francis W. Eppes who lived their briefly before moving on to Florida where he went on to a successful political career. Given its semi-remote location, and the fact that the house did not function well as a more modern house much of it has survived and is now a museum.

Octagonal 'Necessary' or 'Privy' with its original intricate roof framing
Octagonal ‘Necessary’ or ‘Privy’ with its original intricate roof framing

The museum and the non profit foundation that backs it have been working on restoring the house to how it looked at the end of Jefferson’s time there. Fire, later owners and weather have all taken their toll over the years, but the craftsmen and scholars who work on it have been doing an excellent job of bringing the house back to its earlier grandeur. With each visit there is always something new to see.

Model of the Jefferson designed flat roof structure above the wing of 'Offices' that funneled water away from the roof and allowed folks to walk on the roof.
Model of the Jefferson designed flat roof structure above the wing of ‘Offices’ that funneled water away from the roof and allowed folks to walk on the roof.

Jefferson loved the idea of having a flat decked roof that one could stroll out onto and refined the details of how to accomplish this several times over the years with varying degrees of sucess. You can see other examples of how he attempted this at Monticello and Montpelier.  The model above shows how the decking sat atop a series of small ridges that were shingles and funneled water out to a series of spouts you can see in the photo below. It will be interesting to see how well it ages.

Wing of 'Offices' which contained a storeroom, kitchen, smoke house, laundry etc
Wing of ‘Offices’ which contained a storeroom, kitchen, smoke house, laundry etc

This wing of ‘offices’ as they were called were designed to house the kitchen, store room, laundry and smoke house all of which served the main house. It also hid the logistics from Jefferson and his guests — he could stroll out on top of this wing and not see the busy servants going about their business below.

Wing of 'Offices' designed to blend into the landscape
Wing of ‘Offices’ designed to blend into the landscape and barely be visible from the front

Beyond the building architecture and historical connections, the home is also notable for its stunning landscape design. From the front of the house the wing of ‘offices’ is barely visible. A combination of trees, mounds, bushes, and other natural elements allowed the house to project a sense of symmetry and scale that made it look like a grand European retreat Villa. Over the years Jefferson continued to refine his vision and expand the site even in the face of mounting debts.

A nice display showing some of the restoration efforts that have been going into the site.
A nice display showing some of the restoration efforts that have been going into the site.

In the basement of the main house is a series of displays that describe the painstaking process the restoration craftsmen have been going through to restore the house over the past 20+ years.

Senior Restoration Craftsman David Clauss with the long joiner's bench he build
Senior Restoration Craftsman David Clauss with the long joiner’s bench he build

I had a great time hanging out with my friend David Clauss who is a Senior Restoration Craftsman for Poplar Forest. Much like Montpelier I love visiting Poplar Forest since much of the restoration work was done recently and is ongoing — so I feel right at home.

Restoration Workshop Sign
Restoration Workshop Sign

Dave was kind enough to also show me around the restoration workshop which is well equipped. Using traditional tools and materials, and the occasional time saving of some power equipment the craftsmen have restored many aspects of the house — from window sash and doors to the massive skylight in the central room and elaborate moldings.

Restoration Workshop
Restoration Workshop

If you’d like to learn more about Poplar Forest you can watch a recent episode of the Woodwright’s Shop where Roy visited Poplar Forest here.

And you can plan your visit on the official page here http://www.poplarforest.org/visit

If you find the time to visit, I highly encourage you to do so. And if you run into David, please tell him I sent you. 😉

-Bill

Dominy Clock and Furniture Shop

As a preservation carpenter and traditional joiner I spend a lot of time trying to retrace the steps of early craftsmen. While the fruits of their labors survive in pockets — the buildings and pieces that survive; the places where they worked and plied their trades often did not. Thus we often have to look for tool marks, log books, letters and newspapers to piece together the life and work of individual craftsmen.

This summer my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware and visit the Dominy Clock and Furniture Shop exhibit which was an exceptional window in the life of an 18th and 19th century family of craftsmen.

Nice long joiner's bench. Chisel racks in the wall and nice big windows to provide light to work by..
Nice long joiner’s bench. Chisel racks in the wall and nice big windows to provide light to work by.

The Dominy’s were a family of craftsmen from Easthampton New York — out on the east end of Long Island, not terribly far from where I grew up in West Islip, NY. Over the course of four generations and active from ~1750-1850 this family produced fine clocks and furniture pieces that were sold locally and in regional markets. The surviving pieces are now prized by collectors.

Templates in the Dominy Furniture Workshop
Templates in the Dominy Furniture Workshop

Beyond the body of their work the shop is notable for how intact it is. The shop and it’s contents were cataloged and moved from Long Island in 1957 then reassembled and put on display at Winterthur starting in 1960.

Massive hold-fasts that would have made Roubo proud. Note that for the hold-fast on the bench, the arm is at an unusual angle.
Massive hold-fasts that would have made Roubo proud. Note that for the hold-fast on the bench, the arm is at an unusual angle.

The tools, benches, templates, partially completed pieces,  log books and parts of the original shop building survived together.

Traditional style bench full of tools, templates and parts ready to go.
Traditional style bench full of tools, templates and parts ready to go.

It looks as if that last Dominy walked off the job and and could be expected to come back and resume work at any moment.

Peering into the Dominy Furniture Workshop from Long Island, NY you can see the great wheel lathe and workbenches
Peering into the Dominy Furniture Workshop from Long Island, NY you can see the great wheel lathe and workbenches

From the great wheel lathe, to the benches and shave-horse they had a sizable and well laid out shop for the time period. The tools were a mixture of locally made and imported tools.

Lathe setup and ready to by used some more
Lathe setup and ready to by used some more

I was fascinated by the tool marks, storage racks and modifications similar to things I’ve done in my own work.

Shave-horse ready to go. Note the sliding deadman on the bench in the background
Shave-horse ready to go. Note the sliding deadman on the bench in the background

In addition there is also the diminutive Clock Shop which is packed full of metal working tools needed to craft intricate gears and other clock component.

Dominy Clock Workshop at Winterthur
Dominy Clock Workshop at Winterthur

Written to go with the exhibit was Charles Hummel’s seminal book ‘With Hammer in Hand’ (1968). The book can be hard to find and on the pricey side as it has long since been out of print, but is worth every cent. I finally obtained a copy this spring as part of the EAIA’s annual fundraiser auction. The book explores the family, the tools, and the work they did in a way that was enjoyable to read. It paints a vivid picture of what life was like for these skilled craftsmen.

If you’d like to plan your own visit to see the Dominy exhibit you can learn more about it here.

If you’d like to visit on a budget, you can view some online video tours of the gallery below as Roy, Norm and even Bob Vila have segments about the shop.

Roy Underhill Visits the Dominy Shop (towards the end of this clip)

Norm Abram visits the shop and builds a replica clock at the New Yankee Workshop

and Bob Vila explores the shop

Take care,
-Bill

Can you spare a quoin? — A visit to Gunston Hall

On a recent trip down to Virginia, my wife and I finally got a chance to see Gunston Hall in Lorton, VA.  This 18th century mansion was the home of George Mason — a patriot, statesman and founding father  often best known as the ‘Father of the Bill of Rights.’

Approaching Gunston Hall
Approaching Gunston Hall

The plantation sits on what became known as ‘Mason’s Neck’ in Northern Virginia on the Potomac River. This handsome brick home was under construction from 1755-1759 and was a formidable mansion in its day. The exterior is brick with distinctive quoins in the the four exterior corners exude a sense of permanence and have helped the home outlast most of it’s contemporary wood clad buildings.

Gunston Hall (From the landed entrance)
Gunston Hall (From the landed entrance)

The detailed interiors were designed by a young William Buckland who went on to design the interiors of other famous homes including the Hammond-Harwood House, Mount Airy (Richmond, VA), and the Prince William County Courthouse.

Obligatory tourist picture of me standing in the kitchen yard.
Obligatory tourist picture of me standing in the kitchen yard.

Buckland worked with the very talented carver William Bernard Sears to fit out the interior of the house. The interior combined elements of rococo, chinoiserie, and gothic styles which was an unusual contrast when compared to the simple decoration favored in Virginia homes at the time.  Although chinoiserie was popular in Britain at the time, Gunston Hall is the only known house to have this decoration in colonial America. [click here for more info — previous sentence paraphrased from this Wiki entry]

Schoolhouse as viewed from front portico of the main house.
Schoolhouse as viewed from front portico of the main house.

Unfortunately the museum does not allow photography inside the mansion, so you will have to take my word for it, but the interior details and carvings are exquisite — from the fretwork in the yellow ochre dining room which imparts a very asian feel, to the gilded rococo baufats and carved egg and dart details on the doors and mantel in the ‘Paladian room’. From what little remains of Buckland and Sears’ original work you can see what gifted craftsmen they were.

3/4 View of Gunston Hall
3/4 View of Gunston Hall

Based on architectural and archeological research, conservators and preservation craftsmen have done an excellent job preserving and restoring the home to much of it’s earlier prominence — from carvings, to wall papers and hangings, to the chinoiserie. Much of this restoration work is fairly recent and the house is deliberately spartan in the areas where they do not have reasonable evidence to say what was there originally. (A refreshing take compared to some other properties wherein the preservationists and curators filled in the blanks as they went and thus blurred the line between was was really there and what is an educated guess on how to interpret a room)

Alee of ancient boxwood
Alee of ancient boxwood

On the rear or riverside of the home you will see the allee of boxwoods that date back to the time of George Mason and may be the last extant example of a once imported Boxwood species no longer found in England. The rear porch was also quite distinctive with it’s Gothic arches.

Riverside entrance to Gunston Hall
Riverside entrance to Gunston Hall

If you are interested in architecture, woodwork, wood carving or early American history I highly recommend a visit to Gunston Hall. It takes about  half day to see it all and explore the grounds and outbuildings. You can learn more about this historic site here.

How many tools are in your Tool Chest?

Tool chests come in all shapes and sizes — from the hand built traditional joiner’s chest, to a mail order gentleman’s chest, to the plastic fantastic junk you find in big box stores today. Depending on what kind of work you do the number of tools you have in your chest may vary, but at some point I think all traditional craftsmen (and craftswomen) wonder how many tools they can actually fit inside their primary chest.

How many tools can you fit into your tool chest?  Don’t worry, if you want to cram in a few extra items before we start counting I’m willing to wait.

Alexander Forbes Tool Chest from the Mid-Late 19th century.
Alexander Forbes Tool Chest from the Mid-Late 19th century.

How many tools did you to fit in your chest? How about 500 tools?!  That’s right, the tool chest shown here once belonged to Alexander Forbes who was a cabinet maker and Pullman car builder from Cleveland Ohio contained over 500 traditional woodworking tools.

Close up of the Forbes Tool Chest from Ohio
Close up of the Forbes Tool Chest from Ohio

This tool chest is currently on display at the Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware and is part of the 400 Years of Massachusetts Furniture display at the museum.

A sampling of the tools from inside the chest
A sampling of the tools from inside the chest

On the wall behind the chest you will see over 100 tools on display from this chest that dates to about 1880. The tools look like they are in exceptionally good shape and would be right at home on my own workbench. This set is representative of the kinds of tools a cabinetmaker would use to make many of the pieces on display in this exhibit.

Side view of Alexander Forbes Toolchest
Side view of Alexander Forbes Tool-chest

Don’t let the painted and time worn exterior finish fool you, the interior of the chest was well laid out and carefully constructed with mahogany tills proudly inlaid and showing off the woodworking skills of Alexander Forbes. He apparently also had incredible spacial relation skills to fit that many tools into that fairly average sized chest and to it in such a way that the tills etc do not get beat up in the process. Having said that I assume he likely only crammed all the tools in there for longer trips; I would think for efficiency purposes he’d likely partially unpack/deploy tools just to make enough room in the chest to access all the tools he’d need on a daily basis.

Tools for learning the trade of cabinetmaking -- any of which could be found on my own workbench
Tools for learning the trade of cabinetmaking — any of which could be found on my own workbench

The display also went to great lengths to explain how craftsmen learned their trade, how they used various woods and how many pieces were constructed.

Dressing Table parts in varying stages of completeness to demonstrate how it is build. Made by Steve Brown (NBSS CFM Instructor and former Dept. head)
Dressing Table parts in varying stages of completeness to demonstrate how it is build. Made by Steve Brown (NBSS CFM Instructor and former Dept. head)

Prominently on display was the partial dressing table shown above which was put together by Steve Brown who is an instructor in the Cabinet and Furniture Making program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston. This carefully constructed sample piece concisely shows the progressive steps it took to make a piece like the period dressing table shown to the left of the tool-chest I’ve been admiring.

Sample of the many chair variations created by Massachusetts craftsmen
Sample of the many chair variations created by Massachusetts craftsmen

Moving beyond the intro, the display shows representative samples of ‘Boston’ style furniture in the collection and the wide variety of the objects created by Massachusetts Bay craftsmen during the last 400 years.

Beautiful side chair and high-boy
Beautiful side chair and high-boy

From simple utilitarian stools to high style chest pieces you get a feel for the design elements that representative of the work coming out of Boston and the surrounding area. You will need to visit the exhibit in person to fully experience the depth and variety of style I am talking about.

Floating staircase that was saved from destruction and installed at the museum
Floating staircase that was saved from destruction and installed at the museum

Beyond this exhibition which runs through October 6, 2013, there is a LOT more to see and explore at Winterthur. They offer several tours to parts of the house that are not part of the regular admission, including customized tours you can request, so I highly encourage you to schedule some tours of the other floors when you visit. In the fall I heard thy will also have an exhibit on the costumes of Downton Abbey which will be interesting to see along with all the great furniture, architectural elements (many rooms are furnished with the interior trim that was salvaged from historic homes around the country), and beautiful gardens.

If you’d like to learn more about Winterthur, please check out their website here. And if you’d like to learn more about  ‘400 Years of Massachusetts Furniture’ which is a series of events throughout the year at a consortium of museums and cultural institutions you can learn more about it here.  At the least you’ll learn how to efficiently pack tools in your tool chest….

-Bill

Reproducing Traditional Molding for the Alvah Kittredge House

The Alvah Kittredge House in Roxbury Massachusetts is a great example of high style Greek Revival architecture in Boston and a tangible link to the city and the nation’s early history.

Alvah Kittredge House in the 1880s (Photo Courtesy of Historic Boston Inc)
Alvah Kittredge House in the 1880s (Photo Courtesy of Historic Boston Inc)

The Greek Revival Style was most popular in the United States during the second quarter of the 19th century. (Approximately 1820-1850) During this time period the population and economy was also growing by leaps and bounds. The United States was still a young nation and many folks wanted to show off their new found affluence.  During this period of great optimism there was a strong belief in the American Democracy and many associated the ideals of the new nation with those of early Greek Democracy. Around this time, access to Greece and the designs of antiquity were also coming into the mainstream as influential citizens like Thomas Jefferson read books like ‘The Antiquities of Athens‘, Benjamin Latrobe and others built out Hellenistic monuments and public buildings in Washington D.C. and other large east coast cities, and builder’s guides like Asher Benjamin’s ‘The Practical House Carpenter’ proliferated the tool chests of local joiners and carpenters. Given this atmosphere many folks wanted to have their own building look like a Greek temple. For most of the ‘middling’ Americans, especially those in more rural and western locales the scale and details would be simplified down to keeping classical proportions and greatly simplifying details to meet their budgets — pilasters instead of columns, simplified moldings or even flat boards attempting to echo the pediment and other design elements of a Greek temple.

Looking up at the portico of the Alvah Kittredge House (Photo by Bill Rainford)
Looking up at the portico of the Alvah Kittredge House (Photo by Bill Rainford)

In places with money — like public buildings and mansions — the builders could afford to go big with design elements like a colonnaded portico and carved relief details in the pediment etc. The Alvah Kittredge house is a great example of a high style Greek revival home which reflected the wealth of its original owner, and of Boston and the US in general at that time.  Not only is the house unusual given how the city has grown up around this once grand country estate, but the scale of the front facade needs to be seen in person to be properly appreciated. The two story portico with its double hung windows and high ceilings required wide and detailed moldings in order to be the appropriate scale for such a magnificent home.

The original crisp detail of this hand run molding is obscured by the many layers of paint over the generations. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)
The original crisp detail of this hand run molding is obscured by the many layers of paint over the generations. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)

This 8 inch wide molding was made by hand using traditional wooden molding planes likely on site and from eastern white pine. This is not the sort of thing you can buy at a local big box store, or millworks supply company. The best way to replicate this sort of casing is to make it from the same materials and in the same manner as the original joiner….

Using a molding comb to capture the profile. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)
Using a molding comb to capture the profile. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)

I started by capturing the molding profile via molding comb or profile gauge which aids in transferring the profile to the newly prepared stock.

Setting in the details with a Snipe's Bill plane. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)
Setting in the details with a Snipe’s Bill plane. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)

Next by using traditional wooden molding planes I carefully set in all the major transitions in the profile

Using traditional molding planes to replicate the profile. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)
Using traditional molding planes to replicate the profile. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)

Many of these planes I use date back to the time period when the Kittredge house was actually built and yields results that simply cannot be duplicated by machine. The original handwork had variations and facets which catch the light differently when compared to stock that is milled by a machine.

Section of new molding alongside an original sample -- a nice match. (Photo by Bill Rainford)
Section of new molding alongside an original sample — a nice match. (Photo by Bill Rainford)

The end result is a near identical match that will help insure that future generations living in the Kittredge house will be able to enjoy it’s many details in much the same way as Alvah did when the house was first built.

If you’d like to learn more about how to make traditional moldings, please check out the related article ‘Master Carpenter Series:Traditional Molding’ I wrote for FineHomebuilding which can be found here  (There is also a related video series which you can find on www.finehomebuilding.com/extras for the Sept 2013 issue)

-Bill Rainford
Preservation Carpenter, Joiner, and Instructor
https://rainfordrestorations.wordpress.com

P.S. The above post was written for my friends at Historic Boston Inc here. You can learn more about Historic Boston and specifically about the Alvah Kittredge House here.

Sloyd Workbench — Larsson Adjustable Workbench

Hello My Fellow Sloyders,

Recently we’ve talked a bit about the Sloyd Tool Cabinet and it’s contents — but with all these tools on hand and a book full of models to build, where do you actually build them?

I’d like to introduce you to a slightly more famous cousin to the Sloyd Tool Cabinet — the ‘Larsson Improved Adjustable Workbench’ or more commonly known as a ‘Sloyd Bench’.

Larsson Adjustable Bench from November 1908 Sloyd Record
Larsson Adjustable Bench from November 1908 Sloyd Record

This workbench was designed by Gustaf Larsson the principal of the Boston Sloyd School in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and manufactured by Chandler and Barber to Larsson’s specifications.  The bench was the result of Larsson’s experiences at Naas, at the Boston Sloyd School and at  the North Bennet Street Industrial School. It draws upon design elements found in traditional continental European benches but was scaled to the needs of a classroom setting and had to accommodate both children and adults.

The Sloyd Record: Issue No.1 January 1904 -- Boston Sloyd School Alumni Newsletter
The Sloyd Record: Issue No.1 January 1904 — Boston Sloyd School Alumni Newsletter

How do we know so much about this bench?

In some ways it is fairly well documented in old tool catalogs, like those of Chandler and Barber — the premier supplier of ‘Sloyd System’ benches, tools and supplies and in other advertising. In addition, a fair number of these benches still survive which is a testament to how well they were built and how many of them were produced. While the North Bennet Street Industrial School catered to training immigrants and younger students in its earliest days, the Boston Sloyd School focused on teaching the teachers of Sloyd. Teachers would come to the school, learn how to teach Sloyd to students and then go back to their municipalities to teach Sloyd to the local population. So with diplomas in hand these new teachers often wanted to order the same or very similar setups to what they learned on. This was the genesis of many manual training programs in the United States.

Chandler and Barber Sloyd System Supplier Ad from January 1904 Sloyd Record
Chandler and Barber Sloyd System Supplier Ad from January 1904 Sloyd Record

Above you can see one of the many ads Chandler and Barber took out in Sloyd related publications — in this case the ‘Sloyd Record’ which was the alumni newsletter of the Boston Sloyd School. Chandler and Barber seemed to be the most prolific dealer in this space, but just like today there was a lot of competition. You’ll see ads from Hammacher Schlemmer (they used to specialize mostly in tools and hardware back then), lumber dealers, publishers and other similar companies trying to get a piece of the apparently semi-lucrative Sloyd pie.

Buy the best -- buy a Larsson Bench from Chandler and Barber
Buy the best — buy a Larsson Bench from Chandler and Barber

The competition got so fierce that some of the Chandler and Barber felt it was worth mentioning how others got burned trying to save a few dollars going with a competitor’s bench of inferior quality. Don’t be a part of that sorry lot…..

Larsson IMproved Adjustable Sloyd Bench as seen in 'A Textbook Of Working Models Of Sloyd' By Gustaf Larsson
Larsson Improved Adjustable Sloyd Bench as seen in ‘A Textbook Of Working Models Of Sloyd’ By Gustaf Larsson

What made this bench so special?

Beyond being the brand name bench associated with Sloyd pioneer Gustaf Larsson the bench did have some novel features. If you look carefully in the picture above you can see a set of hinges on the cross member of the base (near where you see the word Pat.Aplc..). Why would anyone want hinges on their bench? Essentially you could take the top of the bench off, flip up or down those blocks, re-install the bench top and be able to accommodate both children and adults in the same workspace. Over the years several models of bench were associated with Larsson’s name, including the popular No. 5 model shown here, another larger model designed for 2 students to share a workspace, and even a clamp on vise which could be used for light work when attached to a sturdy table.

Beyond being a reasonably stout bench, it could be ordered with wood or metal vise screws, a few variants of removable tool rack (which made it easy for instructors to see if all the tools were put back in their proper place and in good condition), vise and dog hole configurations and similar tweaks.

Larsson Improved Adjustable Bench as Seen on Craigslist (Thanks to Gary Roberts for the link)
Larsson Improved Adjustable Bench as Seen on Craigslist (Thanks to my friend Gary Roberts for the link)

During my time at NBSS over the years I’ve had the chance to work at some of these benches a few of which seemed to survive in the darker corners of the workshop department. At the time I didn’t realize the history of what I working on — I thought it was just another old workbench which had seen better days and was propped up to accommodate taller students. At this sort of old bench I first learned to layout and cut a proper dovetail and it was well suited for the task and you could fit a fair number of them in a modest sized classroom. The benches were commonly bolted down into the floor which made up for the lack of mass when compared to a full sized bench. As a joiner these days I am used to working from a much larger bench as I work on a bigger scale, but if you are tight on space or find a good deal on a used model, it would be a great place to start on your path to more enjoyable woodworking.

In your travels, if you see any of these benches, tool cabinets or Chandler and Barber catalogs from the early 1900s, I’d be interested to see or hear about your findings here on the blog or via email.

Take care,
-Bill

Installing Doors and Windows as Performance Art

This past Saturday I taught a workshop on installing doors and windows at the North Bennet Street School’s Arlington location. While it is the last workshop that will be taught at that location before the big move this summer into the new facility back in the North End of Boston it did not feel as much like the end of an era — it felt like the beginning of something new. The Arlington location was where I learned as a student and where I first started teaching workshops at NBSS so while I am a little sad to see the old shop get packed up, I look forward to seeing where we can push going forward with new classes and new opportunities.

Door and Window Framing Mockup
Door and Window Framing Mockup

In designing this class part of the challenge was to make accessible to a wide audience and also be reasonable with the materials. The format of this workshop was a full day of me demonstrating, lecturing a bit, answering questions and letting the class try some of the hands on operations.  By the time I got home I was on my feet for about 14 hours that day and felt like I completed a long piece of performance art.

Using shims to center and plumb up the door
Using shims to center and plumb up the door

We covered a lot of material given this was only a one day class:

  • basics of stick framing
  • how to install a new pre-hung door and adjust it
  • how to install a door knob and lockset
  • how to trim out the door
  • how to cut sheathing for a framed out window opening
  • installing and leveling a window
  • how to wrap and flash around a window
  • how to cut a stool and trim out a window
  • And MANY general questions along the way
Bill demonstrating how to adjust the door's opening
Bill demonstrating how to adjust the door’s opening

If there are carpentry, preservation carpentry, or general woodworking workshops you’d like to see offered at the school or in my own shop, please let me know as I’m always looking to teach something new and entertaining.

NBSS Distinguished Alumni Award Winner 2013: Brandon Gordon

An annual tradition at the North Bennet Street School on graduation day is recognizing a distinguished member of the alumni community. The students, staff and alumni community nominate candidates who are out in the field practicing their craft and embodying the best of what the school has to offer and this year we had another strong group of candidates which made the decision a tough one.

This year’s winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA) is Brandon Gordon (PC) of the National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC).

Left to right: Mrs. Gordon, Brandon Gordon, Bill Rainford
Left to right: Mrs. Gordon, Brandon Gordon, Bill Rainford

Brandon currently works as a project supervisor where he is responsible for for planning, evaluating, initiating, administering, performing and supervising work on the National Park Service’s (NPS) most complex and unique preservation projects.  He has used the knowledge and skills gained from NBSS to accomplish work on a variety of historic structures that cover a wide range of time periods and architectural styles.

In his own words:  “I continue to pass along these preservation and restoration techniques to advance the skills and methods of project teams.  My NBSS education has allowed me to direct highly skilled preservation trades people in the utilization of special tools and techniques necessary to carry out preservation projects. I also serve as a training instructor for lesser skilled employees by organizing and producing training programs for the NPS.  I have presented workshops on maintaining and repairing historic wood windows to NPS employees, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and at IPTW.”

Brandon speaking to the class
Brandon speaking to the class

During Brandon’s visit we had our usual end of year BBQ and toured the Arlington facility. Later this summer the Carpentry and Preservation Carpentry departments will be moving to the new NBSS location on North Street in Boston where all the programs will again be under one roof — while nice to get all the programs back together again I also felt a bit sad that this was likely the last big hurrah at this location which was home to me when I was a student.

Handing out the perfect attendance awards
Handing out the perfect attendance awards

After a nice introduction from Rich Friberg, Brandon took the opportunity to talk with the students about what he did when he was at NBSS, some workshops he taught at NBSS, what he’s done since graduation, a bit of advice, and answering questions from the class.

Dave receiving his award
Dave receiving his award

Next up, it was time to hand out the perfect attendance awards + scholarship which were started last year by Johnathan Ericson (PC ’11). Judging by the long list of winners it was nice to see the level of dedication exemplified by this class of students.

A funny moment during to the talk
A funny moment during to the talk

During the Q & A session there were some good questions and amusing anecdotes that kept everyone entertained including what it’s like to work on the White House when the President is coming and going via the Marine One helicopter.

The O'Shaughnessy Method: Capturing some of Steve's funnier pearls of wisdom
The O’Shaughnessy Method: Capturing some of Steve’s funnier pearls of wisdom

And  no recap of the day would be complete without a mention of the last day of class surprise PC1 (2014 class) had for Steve O’Shaughnessy their instructor. They had custom shirts made which made which decry ‘The O’Shaughnessy Method’ which captures some of the more poignant, memorable or hilarious things Steve said to them during the year. (Click the picture above to view it larger and read it) If anyone has a copy of the original graphic, please send it my way.

The PC1 class sporting their new T-Shirts
The PC1 class sporting their new T-Shirts

It was a beautiful 90+ degree day at the school and great to finally meet Brandon in person. As the students move their tools out of the shop for the summer and get ready for their internships or new jobs I know they are going out into the world with a solid skill-set that will serve them well for years to come.

Congratulations to Brandon and the PC Class of 2013 — you have a bright future ahead of you!

EAIA 2013 Cape Cod — Day 3 Tool Swap, Tinsmithing, Tool Chests, Auction and Banquet

Day 3 was the last day of the EAIA 2103 Conference on Cape Cod. It was another busy day full of events. After breakfast we headed off to the Tool Show and Swap where folks setup tables full of tools for sale or trade or a booth with a display to show either a unique collection, research results or other things of interest to the group.

Tool show and swap
Tool show and swap

Seeing the prices folks wanted for some items, I’m not convinced they wanted to sell them — but I guess that is why most folks refer to themselves as collectors (or hoarders — as my wife often calls me) and not sellers.

It was great to finally meet Chris Schwarz in person as I've been a fan of his work and writing for a long time.
It was great to finally meet Chris Schwarz in person as I’ve been a fan of his work and writing for a long time.

A highlight of the event for me was finally getting to meet Chris Schwarz in person. I’ve conversed with him via email and similar means for several years, but it was nice to get to talk with him in person. I am a big fan of his work, research and writing.

Very nice display showing how wood and metal planes can be restored
Very nice display showing how wood and metal planes can be restored

This display was interesting in that it showed a split view of before and after restoration. Having brought many an old plane back to life, it was a nice presentation.

Bill McMillen giving his talk on Tinsmithing
Bill McMillen giving his talk on Tinsmithing

Next up was master tinsmith Bill MicMillen — who you may have seen at other EAIA events, Eastfield Village or Colonial Williamsburg.

Bill McMillen's talk on 'The Tinsmith In America: The Trade, Materials, Tradesmen, The Tools and Products'
Bill McMillen’s talk on ‘The Tinsmith In America: The Trade, Materials, Tradesmen, The Tools and Products’

Bill gave a nice talk on the “Tinsmith In America: The Trade, Materials, Tradesmen, Tools & Products”. It was interesting to see how the trade came to America, changed and migrated over the years.

Soldering a tin cup
Soldering a tin cup

Bill went on to demonstrate how to make a tin cup walking us through the various forming and soldering stages.

Bill McMillen demonstrating how to tinsmith as he makes a cup
Bill McMillen demonstrating how to tinsmith as he makes a cup

Bill demonstrated his considerable hand skill in making the cup by hand and also showed how some of the later forming machines changed the way common items were made.

Chris Schwarz giving a talk on 'Tool Chests Fancy & Simple'
Chris Schwarz giving a talk on ‘Tool Chests Fancy & Simple’

Chris Schwarz gave a talk called ‘Tool Chests Fancy and Simple’ where he explained a bit about the evolution and anatomy of tool chests — from the densely packed and high style H.O. Studley Toolchest, to fare more utilitarian models.

Chris Schwarz and his tool chests -- then and now. You can see how far his research, his work and his designs have come over the years.
Chris Schwarz and his tool chests — then and now. You can see how far his research, his work and his designs have come over the years.

It was also interesting to see some of Chris’ journey from earlier power tool oriented projects to later more traditional projects that focused on traditional joinery and hand tools.

Joint stool at the EAIA Silent Auction
Joint stool at the EAIA Silent Auction

In the evening we took part in the EAIA annual silent auction that benefits the EAIA endowment. There was a nice selection of traditional tools, books and items folks donated and/or made for the auction.

Beautiful chair in the silent auction that I believe had a relationship to (or at least a design derived from) the works of Wallace Nutting
Beautiful chair in the silent auction that I believe had a relationship to (or at least a design derived from) the works of Wallace Nutting

Alyssa and I had a lot of fun in the auction and it took some bidding, but we got some of the items we set our sights on….

Turned kingwood pen
Turned kingwood pen

Alyssa had her heart set on this nice turned pen made from kingwood and is already putting it to good use.

Books and turned pen we won in the silent auction. The had I bought from the Lost Art Press
Books and turned pen we won in the silent auction. The had I bought from the Lost Art Press

I won an old book from Winterthur Museum on the Dominy Clock shop which came from Long Island (a few towns out from where I grew up) and was a book I’ve been hunting around for for several years. I look forward to reading it soon and visiting WInterthur later this year as they have an exhibit on 400 years of Massachusetts furniture and has several reproductions made by friends from NBSS.

After teh banquet dinner Myles Standish came to regale us with stories of his life and to answer questions.
After the banquet dinner Myles Standish came to regale us with stories of his life and to answer questions.

After the auction we had the annual meeting and banquet. Following dinner, Myles Standish came to regale us with stories of his life and travels and answer any questions the audience had.

Beyond all the events I also got some shiny new toys:

Saws and Carriage Maker's Rule
Saws and Carriage Maker’s Rule

I got the carriage maker’s rule and old hand saws at the Great Planes auction and will put them to good use in the shop.

Lot's of new reading material
Lot’s of new reading material

At the tool swap I got some great books this year. I got a bunch of historic reprints from the Toolemera Press that I had been thinking about for a while. In an antique shop on the Cape I found a nice 1950s set of 4 Audel’s books on masonry. At Plimoth I got one of Peter Follansbee’s DVDs on carving (Which he was kind enough to autograph for me), a DVD version of making a chair from a tree, and a nice book on English Period House Fixtures and Fittings which looks like a nice reference book.

Lee Valley Saddle Square made for the 80th Anniversary of the EAIA -- I look forward to using it at the bench.
Lee Valley Saddle Square made for the 80th Anniversary of the EAIA — I look forward to using it at the bench.

I’ll end with the first thing I got on this trip — picked up during registration — which is a nice Lee Valley Saddle Square which was engraved to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the EAIA. Similar to Lee Valley dovetail saddle squares I have I’m sure it will earn its place in my tool chest.

I had a great time on this trip and while it was hard to go to work on Monday, I was happy to think about the great time we had and look forward to next year’s event.