Category Archives: Traditional Woodworking

Bradley’s Crib

The past few months out in the workshop I’ve been building a crib, and a toddler bed and a full size adult bed for our new baby — Bradley. The story of how I wound up building this crib is an interesting tale about baby furniture in America today…

Completed Crib
Completed Crib

With a baby in the house, we had a clear need for a crib. I wanted to build a crib, but with everything going on in our lives — our work, my teaching, writing, preparing the house for the baby etc my wife Alyssa and I were all set to buy a crib for the baby before he arrived. We went to all the usual baby stores — Baby’s R Us, Baby Depot, Buy Buy Baby, Target etc — all the cribs were poorly made imported junk that looked terrible on display and were more than I was willing to pay for such junk. Then we tried all the usual furniture stores in the area and while the price tags went up exponentially the quality was only marginally better and I could not find anything I was willing to buy at any price. Eventually we found a brand and product line we liked by ‘Young America’ —  a company that specialized in higher end youth furniture, made in the USA from American Woods. With a 25+ year history in the marketplace and long running product lines you could keep adding pieces as your child grows — all things I liked. It was expensive, but I found a way to get it at a reasonable price via a buying club my parents were part of. We were all set to place our order and the week we finally went to enter the order the manufacturer said it was no longer accepting new orders. From searching online we found out that the parent company Stanley decided to shut down the factory (and with it eliminate about 400 jobs).  If only I placed my order a week earlier…

Toddler Bed
Toddler Bed

So it was back to the hunt. If I couldn’t find anything American, maybe a European brand? Some friends recommended Bellini — an Italian company with a good reputation that specializes in baby and youth furniture. They had some nice designs and pricing was a little higher than that of Young America — but from reading reviews and looking at the current product line I learned that recent years the furniture was no longer made in Italy, but made in Asia and had a decrease in fit and finish quality – yet the prices remained just as high as ever. If I am going to pay European prices I at least want it to be made in Europe. Quickly running out of time and patience I decided the only way I was going to get a crib that made me happy was to build it myself.

Adult Bed -- Full Size Mattress
Adult Bed — Full Size Mattress

After a lot of searching I finally settled on a set of plans from Wood Magazine — the 3 in 1 bed which you can find here. The cheap Yankee in me liked the concept of these three in one cribs/beds and figured it would mean less furniture to store in the attic. It starts out as a crib, then converts into a toddler bed and finally converts to a full size adult bed by way of some nice hardware (decorative metal bolts and barrel nuts). The hardware — bolts and nice heavy metal bed frame are made in the USA and available from Products America here. The folks there are friendly and they produce hardware used by other baby furniture manufacturers.

Crib outfitted with mattress, sheets, skirt and of course stuff animals
Crib outfitted with mattress, sheets, skirt and of course stuff animals

I modified the design a bit by making the short side sections slatted — just like the front and back — being careful to adhere to government safety guidelines for cribs. I’m happy I did as I really prefer this look and the baby seems to like the extra light as well. I built the bed from Cherry instead of the maple you see in the article. I hand selected the cherry to have nice looking grain patterns and even tones. It took longer to build than I would have liked, as life, the birth and other obligations got in the way, but I am happy I finally finished this project and Bradley has a nice place to sleep. I am also happy with how rock solid this bed feels compared to the models we saw in the stores which felt flimsy in comparison.

A note for Bradley
A note for Bradley

On the bottom of the headboard is a small note — “For Bradley M. Rainford — Love Dad” for Bradley to find someday when he’s older.

Bradley enjoying his new crib
Bradley enjoying his new crib

Now the trick will be getting the baby to sleep in it — it’s only been a day or two and he loves playing in the crib more than sleeping in it, but he’s used to sleeping in the master bedroom. Thankfully the bed will be there waiting for him to play, grow and eventually sleep.

In a couple of upcoming posts I’ll talk a bit about how I built this project and some other modifications I made (baby safe finish, hardware patina modification, jigs) and other interesting construction challenges. If you’d like to read some other posts related to this project as they get posted please check out this link here.

Now its time to build him a dresser….

Take care,
-Bill

Organic Buttery Spread and Hide Glue

When I am out in the workshop and I need to glue something up quickly using hide glue or need only a small amount of hide glue where it is not worth the time and trouble to mix up some traditional hide glue from the pellets, I place a bottle of Old Brown Glue  (OBG) in my electric glue pot and let it warm up in the water. (When not in use that bottle lives in the workshop refrigerator to extend it’s life).

Old Brown Glue in my electric glue pot
Old Brown Glue in my electric glue pot

Once heated up the glue flows a lot better. The one thing I don’t like about the OBG bottle after heating is that it has a tendency to flow quickly and can quickly release way too much glue onto a given surface. Also after pouring out some glue, when you return the bottle to an upright position the air in the bottle has a tendency to shoot a blob of molten glue which can land on your project, your face, your cat, your wife — basically anywhere except the glue joint.

Hot hide glue ready to be used
Hot hide glue ready to be used

To combat this I normally pour some glue out onto the TOP of the lid of a plastic container. Usually Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread (which is a surprisingly good butter substitute) or the lid to a container of Breakstone’s Sour Cream work well as they both have a depression in the center that keeps the glue on the lid. You want a lid that is made of a flexible plastic and one that has a logo that will not come off.  If the glue gets cold I can add some more warm glue and reinvigorate some of the glue that gelled on the lid but eventually the lid can get covered with glue that has cooled down.

The dried glue is easily removed from the lid
The dried glue is easily removed from the lid

At the end of the day whatever is left on the lid will sit until it hardens. In a day or so I can bend the plastic lid and peel off the glue as a big disc. If the glue is still fairly fresh you can reheat it in a glue pot and use it again or if it is old or contaminated by dust or other foreign materials you can toss it and start over.

I’ve been a big fan of hide glue in recent years — for its reversibility, workability, compatibility with finishes and historical accuracy. If you’d like to learn more about hide glue and its many properties and uses check out the book “Hide Glue: Historical and Practical Applications” by my friend Stephen A. Shepherd via his blog here.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. The woodworking community was sad to learn that Stephen A. Shepherd recently had a serious stroke. He is in our thoughts and prayers and we all wish him a speedy and full recovery.

Rocking Horse 33 Years In The Making

First off, I want to share some good news with everyone — in late August my wife Alyssa gave birth to our first child — a son named Bradley who came in at 10lbs 15oz and 23 inches long!  We’re both proud parents and my wife and the baby are both doing well. With the new baby, work, and teaching this semester,  I haven’t had as much time to blog as I would like. As things are calming down and and the cold weather sets in I’ll get some more time at the computer and will catch everyone up on what projects I’ve been working on. In the meantime I wanted to share with you one of the few family heirlooms I have — in this case my old rocking horse.

Oak Rocking Horse
Oak Rocking Horse

I’m convinced that Woodworking skills and appreciation for woodwork are hereditary to some degree. When I was a child my Dad — William D. Rainford — made a very nice rocking horse for me. The horse was constructed from solid oak and was just about complete — the woodworking was done, the seat was on there, but the horse lacked his eyes, mane and tail. The horse worked great and as a child I fondly remember riding on it.

Front View of Oak Rocking Horse
Front View of Oak Rocking Horse

With the impending birth of my son I bugged Dad to finish off the horse, teasing him that he had 33 years to finish it — that’s how old I am right now. I’m happy to report that my Dad came through and finished the horse off properly — he now has his eyes (which we are all still amazed that he had and was able to find after all of these years), a nice mane, leather ears and even a bridle.

Close Up Of Rocking Horse Head
Close Up Of Rocking Horse Head

I look forward to when Bradley is old enough to ride it. Right now it’s keeping watch over the other toys in Bradley’s room. Speaking of Bradley’s room and finishing off projects, I need to finish building the crib for Bradley before he outgrows his bassinet and starts giving me a hard time for not finishing off that project.

Take care,
-Bill

Woods the Difference?

As a woodworker we spend our time working with wood. But how well do we know this material? Do you know how a piece of wood is going to plane? Do you know how it will react to changes in humidity? Did you pick the right piece for the job? Is it the right species? Before I got into traditional woodworking I thought the old-timers spent an incredible amount of energy to do the most basic of operations and I was thankful for all the power tools at my disposal. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Many of our traditional woodworking forefathers had what seemed to be a much better connection to the wood and how it could be used and worked.

“They were friends, as only a craftsman can be, with timber and iron. The grain of the wood told secrets to them.” – George Sturt, 1923

The old timers used this knowledge to work the wood more efficiently with the tools they had on hand. They took advantage of wood’s strength in joinery, took advantage of planes of weakness in splitting wood, worked green wood when it was advantageous and dried wood as needed. They selected species suited to the task at hand and availability, they used parts of the tree like crotches, taproots and burls for purposes they were supremely suited for. They read the grain of the wood as they sized it up and felt how it handled when planed by hand.

This information is not dead to us in the modern world, but it takes some digging to find good sources and there is no substitute for getting out in the shop, experimenting with as many species as you can get your hands on and developing that close relationship to the wood. The woods are still out there waiting for you to make that connection.

The first step your journey to understanding wood is to learn the basics — what are the most prevalent wood species in your area and what are they most often used for? The info-graphic below is a great first step on this quest:

Wood Differences Infographic
Wood Differences Info-graphic — From http://www.furnitureuk.co.uk

The next step is to understand and identify the woods you have to work with. The seminal modern references on both of these topics were written by R. Bruce Hoadley in his books “Identifying Wood: Accurate Results with Simple Tools” and “Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology”. Both are excellent additions to your woodworking library and wonderful reference books, but if you plan to read them cover to cover be prepared for some sometimes dry reading material. I love that I can look up the coefficient of expansion of a given species but that is not an everyday need. If you want a more craftsman to craftsman introduction to wood as a material you might want to check out With the Grain: A Craftsman’s Guide to Understanding Wood’ by Christian Becksvoort. This book gives a nice crash course in how wood grows and works, how to identify common species and even a bit on how to grow and harvest your own wood.

What if I don’t want to share in all your fancy book learning?

While I am a bookworm I know that is not for everyone and that’s fine too. The board itself will tell you many of its secrets if you know how to listen. Grab a board you have on hand and go through the basic exercise of flattening it with a plane. The board will tell you its grain orientation — it will tear out if you are going against the grain. Spend some time with the board. Let it sit overnight in your shop and see if that flattened board moves at all. It will tell you when it reaches equilibrium with your current shop conditions. Experiment with your favorite finishes — the wood will tell you how it likes to react to that finish. Each minute you spend working with this material it will reveal more information that helps you improve your relationship with the material. If you are patient, spend some quality time with your hand tools and your wood, your skills and relationship will improve. In time you’ll be able to size up a board at the lumber yard and visualize how you are going to use it. You’ll break out your planes and get a feel for a given piece of wood — is it planing nicely or does it need to be coerced? Have you finished the board in such a way that your finish will turn out the way you want?  Does the species have the characteristics you need for this application? The investment in this relationship will pay dividends throughout your woodworking career. Your ability to listen to the secrets the wood has to share with you will make all the difference in the speed, results and enjoyment you get from your woodworking.

It’s time to get out into the workshop and and start that relationship….

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. A big thank you to Peter JS for sharing the above info-graphic with me. His company made the above graphic for their client furnitureuk.co.uk and said that we could share it here on the blog.

The best $1 you can spend on your workbench

I recently finished off my never-ending project — building a proper workbench. I snapped some photos figuring it will never look this pristine again. Time to press the bench into service…

Things started off great, but I wanted to set my jack plane to take a heavy cut and see how just how aggressive I could get before the bench started to move. I’m 6′-1.5″ tall and 240lbs, so if I really get going I’ve moved many a sizable bench over the years. At 7′ long and made of solid maple the bench has a good amount of mass. The problem I have is a very smooth concrete floor which provides little traction for wood.

With a concrete slab I won’t be bolting the bench to the floor so I needed an alternative. I ran through several alternatives in my head but couldn’t come up with a good solution that didn’t jack up the bench. As I sat on my sawbench looking around the shop I recalled a blog post by Chris Schwarz from earlier in the year wherein he put some sandpaper on a shim and have very good results. (You can see Chris’ post here). Sandpaper didn’t get much traction on the concrete floor, but it triggered a different thought. Years ago Rockler marketed a ‘routing mat’ which was effectively an expensive roll of rubber drawer liner. The cheap Yankee in me promptly went out and bought a roll of drawer liner for a couple of dollars and he has served me well for a decade or so now.  I went to my router station, grabbed the mat and cut out four squares roughly the size of the foot pads on my bench. I put them under the bench and repeated my experiment…

Rubber mat can help your bench stay put
Rubber mat can help your bench stay put

To my surprise it worked great. The weight of the bench compressed the pad so much the bench height is negligibly higher off the ground. I was able to aggressively plane some hard maple scraps left over from the bench and it was solid and stationary. I’m sure someone who really wanted to move it enough could find a way, but the increase in traction was impressive. If you’re also living with a concrete floor in the shop you’ll want to give this a try — it’s about the best $1 bench upgrade you can make.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I’ll make some posts about building the bench, but right now I have a some competing priorities taking my much of my time. We have a baby on the way in August, I need to build a crib, and I’m teaching for much of the rest of the summer. I’ll be posting as I get some free time here and there but it may be in spurts.

P.P.S. In digging up the the blog post above from Chris I learned that I am not the first to do this sort of thing with various forms of rubber padding — nonetheless the simplicity and the results were still worth sharing.

1805 Taylor Old Up and Down Sawmill

One of the hidden gems of Derry NH is the 200+ year old Taylor Sawmill. It’s one of the last surviving and working up and down sawmills in the region and likely the country.

Taylor Sawmill, Derry, NH
Taylor Sawmill, Derry, NH

Powered by a large water wheel, this mill still operates for demonstrations and the occasional bit of restoration work.  It’s amazing to see and hear this mill in action. There is a distinctive noise as the saw makes each powerful stroke like clockwork, and it’s almost scary as you can feel some of the vibration through the floor and feel the air move as this massive timber frame saw blade oscillates up and down.

The mill is powered by a large water wheel which is fed by an adjacent pond.
The mill is powered by a large water wheel which is fed by an adjacent pond.

The blade itself is held in tension by a massive timber frame. You can think of it as a giant frame saw. The blades could be changed based on the type of materials being sawn and desired finish quality results. In the video below you’ll see the mill operating at one of its slowest speeds. Each blade was set and sharpened by hand. As the saw cut the timber, the ratcheting mechanism (driven by the massive geared wheel in the bottom left of the photo below) advanced the entire timber into the blade via a moving carriage.

Up And Down Sawmill in Action
Up And Down Sawmill in Action

The mill itself sits on land in Derry NH purchased by Robert Taylor in 1799. The mill started operating in 1805 and had a fairly long service life. The mill site and 71 acres around it were purchased in 1939 by Ernest Ballard. By that time the original mill itself had been scrapped. Ballard eventually found a similar up and down sawmill in Sandown NH and moved it to the Taylor site. Ernest and his wife spent several years restoring and rebuilding that sawmill. He had to make the missing parts and track down a viable water wheel. Thankfully he persevered and was able to complete this project. In 1953 he donated the mill and 71 acres around it to the state of NH, thus creating Ballard State Forrest.

Back in 2010 I visited the mill with a class of North Bennet Street School students and took several photos and videos which I have edited together into a YouTube video that you can watch  here which includes the water wheel and saw cutting a timber.

 

It was an incredible sight to see, and a great place to have a picnic or do some kayaking. If you are in the area, please check it it out. You can learn more about this mill and plan your visit by visiting it’s official web page here and the Wikipedia entry here.

Take care,
-Bill

Getting the Most from your Combination Square

A combination square is such a ubiquitous tool that many woodworkers take it for granted and do not get the most from it.

Starrett Combination Squares and Accessories
Starrett Combination Squares and Accessories

I recently wrote an article on this topic for Fix.com and thought you might also be interested in reading it. In the article I talk about some of the more interesting uses and accessories that will help you get the most out of your combination square. You can check out the full article here.

Some of you might be asking — ‘What is Fix.com?’

The semi-official marketing answer is:
“We are Fix.com, a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing you expert content to make your life easier. We’’ll cover everything in and around your home, like landscaping, gardening, outdoor activities, home maintenance and repairs. From products to projects, we’ll be providing you with a daily fix of content from our experienced and knowledgeable team of writers.”

My less official answer is:
It’s a new blog site with a distinctive visual style that caters to folks who are passionate about woodworking, cars, exercise, fishing, gardening, grilling and motorsports. It will be interesting to see where this site goes as they produce more content and get a wider base of readers.  If you have a few minutes, it’s worth checking out.

Below is a sample of some of the visuals from this article:

My trusty Starrett Combo Square in the limelight

I’ve got some more articles in the works with Fix.com and you’ll be able to check out those posts as they get linked to my Fix.com author page here.

Take care,
-Bill

The Frame Saws of Colonial Williamsburg

Back in December 2013, I topped off the Mr. Fusion, warmed up the Flux Capacitor and headed back to the 1780s for our annual pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg Virginia. During this visit I wanted to check out some of the frame saws my friends are using and what they thought about the saws ahead of building my own.

My first stop was that Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker’ Shop…

The Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker's Shop at Colonial Williamsburg
The Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker’s Shop at Colonial Williamsburg

Hanging on the wall was a nice two man frame saw and a smaller veneer saw you may recall seeing in an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop. (Season 6, Episode 9 — Free Preview Here on YouTube )

Frame saws hanging on the wall of the Hay Shop
Frame saws hanging on the wall of the Hay Shop

In talking to my friend Ed Wright, the master Harpsichord Maker in the Hay Shop, he showed me some of the finer details of the larger saw shown below.

Ed Wright with a frame saw in Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker's Shop
Ed Wright with a frame saw in Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker’s Shop

The saw’s size and details were derived from Roubo’s plates. The hardware was forged by Colonial Williamsburg’s Blacksmiths, not to be confused with Williamsburg Blacksmiths up in Williamsburg MA (I bought my hold fasts and log dogs from the former, and barn hardware from the latter and I am very happy with both). You can see the forged eye bolt below, passing through a threaded square section and pressing against a metal wear plate.

Close up detail of the tensioning mechanism of a frame saw
Close up detail of the tensioning mechanism of a frame saw

The saw deviates from the Roubo plate a bit with the offset turned handles shown below. (Check out Don’s post here — which includes a copy of the plate I am referring to and is related to the recent LAP reprint of Roubo on Marquetry which includes a nice translation of this plate and Don’s experiments with his own reproduction saw) Ed said that the turned handles worked well over the years even if they give the saw a slightly more modern (Say 19th century) appearance compared to the simple carved volutes in the Roubo print. If you were to use this saw all day long vigorously sawing fine veneers I could see wanting this sort of turned handle and it seems to be popular in other reproductions I’ve seen. While the carved volutes seem like they’d be tougher on the modern sawyers’ hands I suspect the likely simple volutes were contoured to fit in the sawyers hand and would have forced him to have a lighter grip on the saw which might have allowed him to react more directly to the wood and make fine adjustments as he goes. From examining Figure 10 of the Roubo print it looks to me like the sawyer on the right has a very light grip and is sighting down the saw to gently steer it on an appropriate course as the the left sawyer is sighting as well as pulling the saw through the cut. Don’s translation talks about the advantages of sawing on a slight incline and lifting the saw on the return stroke to clear sawdust and not bind the saw. Sawing with a second person can be like having a dance partner — if you are in sync and can communicate well verbally and non verbally you have a shot, if you are out of sync things can go south quick as the narrow blade is unforgiving and wants to follow the path of least resistance.

Close up detail of turned handles on the frame saw
Close up detail of turned handles on the frame saw

The saw blade is held in place via pins that are held in tension, thus tensioning the blade. The blade shown here is quite wide, though not quite as wide as the ~4″ Roubo suggested. When using this type of saw you need to be careful not to over tension it as you can deform/stretch the holes in the blade. The impression I got was that this saw was a little slow cutting at times. A lot of folks online have experimented with saw tooth geometry and similar variations. Adam Cherubini had an interesting and somewhat controversial post regarding his experiences with frame saws which you can check out here.  (Be sure to read the comments as several other folks who have been experimenting in this space weighed in).

Close up detail of the pins the secure the blade to the frame
Close up detail of the pins the secure the blade to the frame

When using a frame saw to re-saw planks or make veneers you can see some of the telltale marks of the tool as it slices through the figured wood. (See below). In general the blade wants to follow the path of least resistance, so cutting in with another saw to start as Roubo describes or using a ‘kerfing plane’ as Tom Fidgen suggests are great ways to better your chance of success. If you’ve seen any of the many great projects to come out of the Hay Shop you’ll have no doubt Ed and the others in the shop have mastered many uses of the frame saw.

Panel that was cut with a frame saw -- shows the telltale pattern of tool marks showing how the saw progressed through the wood
Panel that was cut with a frame saw — shows the telltale pattern of tool marks showing how the saw progressed through the wood

My next stop was to visit Master Carpenter Garland Wood in the Joiner’s shop. Every time I visit I want to pull up a bench and take up residence in the shop as another member of the crew. The benches, tools and projects all feel like home.

Garland Wood in the Joiner's Shop
Garland Wood in the Joiner’s Shop

In the Joiner’s shop Garland showed me the frame saws he had on hand in the shop. Shown below is a nice felloe saw with its narrow blade used to cut curves. In the wheelwright’s shop you can see some larger versions of this style of saw. The example below has nice delicate lines, a simple volute detail, and nicely wrought wing nuts on both ends of the saw. In the foreground of the photo below you can see a tiny bit of a simple bow saw which we’ll talk about in a future post.

Small frame saw in the Joiner's Shop
Small frame saw, a ‘felloe saw’ used for cutting curves and the like, in the Joiner’s Shop

There are very few places you can drop by and pick the brains of talented folks who share the same level of enthusiasm for traditional woodworking and sharing the craft with others — Colonial Williamsburg is one of those places. I’m thankful to Ed and Garland for their time and advice. I look forward to putting some of it to use in building my own frame saw.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I’m of the mindset that we still have more to learn about these saws and look forward to experimenting a bit with my own. I ordered the first production frame saw kit blade from Bad Axe Toolworks based on a saw from Tom Fidgen’s Unplugged Woodshop and will be posting about that in the future.

A Good Shutter Can Be Hard To Find

You don’t often see a good working pair of shutters on a newly constructed home. Most times you see a pre-fab set of vinyl shutters screwed on to the side of a house or no shutters at all. The vinyl shutters usually have no hardware and often are not properly sized for the windows they are adjacent to. I want to reverse that trend and make sure at least a few folks know how to make a traditional wooden shutter.

Shop plans for my Shutters Workshop
Shop plans for my Shutters Workshop

I designed and taught an Introduction to Shutters Workshop at the North Bennet Street School this past weekend which was a lot of fun. Beyond my usual hand drawn plans I also modeled this project in SketchUp. (You can read more about that effort here).

The class hard at work
The class hard at work

In the class students learned how to make a shutter using traditional hand tools and via power equipment. They were able to weigh the pros and cons of each against their skill sets and use what was most appropriate to their project. (Some folks will be repairing a few shutters, others will be making enough for an entire home)

Making octagonal pins
Making octagonal pins

After building the frames, cutting all the mortises and tenons, and fielding the panels, everyone learned about traditional draw-boring. By making and using tapered octagonal pins and driving them through the offset hole drilled into the tenon, the joint is drawn together. This joint uses no glue, is quite strong and can be serviced in the future if a rotten piece needs to be replaced.

John finishing up his shutter
John finishing up his shutter

We also discussed many design options, regional variations and examined several examples we had on hand. It was a busy two days, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see some proper new shutters start popping up in the area.

Group picture with some finished shutters
Group picture with some finished shutters

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I have several more workshops coming up at NBSS over the next 3 months if you are interested in joining me — there are still a few seats available. Up next is Traditional Molding with wooden Molding Planes in April, Saw Horses and Saw Hurdles in May, and Making a Window Sash in June.  You can learn more about each of them here.

Tage Frid — The Great Dane

Woodworking is a lifelong journey of discovery and rediscovery. Along the way you’ll meet a lot of great folks and interesting characters who are surprisingly willing to share advice and help you out. The craft has been passed down this way for millenia.

Everything Old is New Again

Modern woodworking media seems to go in cycles much like clothing styles or car designs. Right now it’s popular to study the early works of Moxon, Roubo and Nicholson etc., or prove you have the best router or table saw trick. Others are interested in espousing the mix of old and new tools and techniques which is not a new concept. Manual training programs like those at NBSS have been doing it for over 125 years and the Shakers before them etc.

I want to buck the current trend and take a trip back to the 20th century. When I got started in traditional woodworking one of the first teachers I had was Tage Frid via the  ‘Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking’ 3 volume set with its iconic white covers. I haven’t seen these books or Tage’s work come up much lately and thought it would be helpful to blow the dust off those books hopefully re-kindle some interest as I think they are a great resource.

Tage Frid

Tage (Pronounced ‘Tay’) taught me and countless other woodworkers the basics via his books and teaching.  He grew up in Denmark and apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. His time as a journeyman took him to various other shops including the Royal Danish Cabinetmakers. In 1948, at the age of 33, the American Craft Council persuaded him to immigrate to New York and teach woodworking. Tage lead the woodworking program at the School for American Craftsman in Alfred NY which was later moved to the Rochester Institute for Technology. From 1962-1985 Tage was a professor of Woodworking and Furniture Design at RISD helping to propel that program to national prominence.

Tage Frid
Tage Frid

Also notable was Tage’s involvement with Fine Woodworking where he worked as an editor from it’s inception in 1975, through 171 issues until his passing in 2004. Described as having a sharp tongue and an ‘impish’ smile you can get a small taste it it through his writing and interviews which often have some memorable nuggets.

He could cut a dovetail while joking and flirting with the ladies. He referred to nails in furniture as ‘Swedish dowels.’ When critiquing a piece of work, which was nerve-wracking for students, the blow was slightly blunted by his sarcastic humor.  Hank Gilpin recounts some memorable zingers:

“Oh, good curve. Too bad it’s the wrong one”
“Nice dovetails. What’d you use — a chainsaw?”
“Beautiful legs Henry. What were you thinking about — an elephant?”
And the classic: “Congratulations, you’ve just figured out the most complicated way to hold a board 30 inches off the floor.” [*]

The goal was not to put anyone down, it was to help each student stay humble and push him or herself to reach new heights in a fatherly kind of way. I had a similar experience during my own training and find myself rehashing some Frid one liners and Rich Friberg-isms in my own shop and classroom. Thankfully the flavor of sarcasm I learned from Rich is a little less harsh, but still fun.

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Boxed Set by The Taunton Press
Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Boxed Set by The Taunton Press

Teaching

When asked about teaching repetitive topics Frid had the following to say:

Don’t you get bored demonstrating the same old dovetail?
“Maybe you left too early. I always demonstrate difficult joints and techniques depending on what the audience wants. The dovetail is just the overture. What I like about teaching is that I learn something new every day. A student asks me, ‘Why can’t I do it this way?’ and I think, ‘Why not?’ Then we figure it out.” — Tage Frid (excepted from an old interview in Fine Woodworking you can read here.)

Levity aside, Frid’s teachings focused on teaching solid joinery — form should follow function, wood has a beautify of its own that should be enhanced and not hidden and instilling an innate sense if proportion via a keen eye for detail.

“The best tool is the eye. Train the eye. The eye guides your hands to achieve the form. If the eye says ‘It’s right’, it is right” — Tage Frid [*]

With a solid grounding in the basics and exposure to a wide range of tools and techniques students are able to take on whatever challenge a project or shop can throw at them. During his lengthy career as a teacher, writer, editor and studio craftsman Frid helped teach several generations of woodworkers. You can see his work live on through his students and their students.

Tage Frid Stool
Tage Frid 3 Legged Stool

Design

Working in the Danish-modern style a lot of Frid’s pieces had a distinctive look compared to many of his American contemporaries. They were generally lighter looking with delicate lines and curves that celebrated the grain. The designs are especially interesting when you view them in the context of the time they were produced — the 1940s-1980s.  Many of them were years ahead of what we think of as the the mainstream designs of the time .

For me, one of his most iconic pieces is the now famous 3 legged stool. If you read his 3rd book you’ll learn about how he came up with the design while watching a horse show and sitting on a fence. It was an interesting case study as he explains some of the revisions he went through to hone the design. These stools have been on my mental to-do list for about a decade now and I hope to eventually build some for myself.

When he first arrived in the US in the 1940s there were no good places to get a solid workbench. As a result Frid had to design and build a bench for himself and for his classrooms.  Based on a traditional continental design with a shoulder vise and a tail vise the bench below was well suited for a cabinet maker. Over the years many a student, both in person and via his writing, would build and use one of these benches or a similar variant.  In some upcoming posts you’ll see me build a scaled up version for my own shop.

Tage Frid Workbench
Tage Frid Workbench

What’s with the book report on Tage Frid?

Tage Frid’s work has shaped several aspects of my woodworking, design and teaching and I had a laundry list of odds and ends I wanted to share with you here. I also have been working to finish off my Tage Frid inspired bench and wanted to set the stage for it.  And lastly because once I saw it, I could not un-see it — my Dad (who was my first woodworking instructor) is a bit of a doppelganger for Tage Frid. (Check out the picture below and compare it to the first picture of Tage Frid in this post) They both have very similar body shapes, taste in glasses, hairline and half smiles. I can’t talk too much because I look a lot like my Dad, I’m just the taller model at 6′-2″, so I suspect there will be a similar picture of me someday in the shop.

William D. Rainford -- My Dad -- And Tage Frid Lookalike
William D. Rainford — My Dad — And Tage Frid Lookalike

If you are interested to learn more about Tage Frid please check out the links below, it’s worth the time.

Other Tage Frid Resources:

Time to get back out into the shop — it’s cold outside.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I never got to meet Tage Frid in person, he passed away while I was living out in Seattle but I would have loved to meet him. If anyone knew him personally I’d be curious to know a few things I haven’t been able to find online:

  • What happened to his shop, bench and tools? Are they in a museum somewhere? Did they go to his grandson?
  • Anyone have a picture of him in the classroom near the iconic benches he used to build?