Tag Archives: NBSS

A Few Good Carpenters

A good carpenter can be hard to find. Many of us like to think that in earlier times there were was an abundance of exceptional carpenters, but this sort of lament is not a new phenomenon. Check out the interesting except below from the 1850s:

“The Author’s Experience.

These facts and reflections have been impressing themselves upon the mind of the Author of this work for twenty years past, while he has been serving the Public as a practical carpenter. During much of this time it has been his fortune to have large jobs on hand, employing many journeymen mechanics, who claimed to understand their trade, and demanded full wages. But it has been one of the most serious and oppressive of his cares, that these journeymen knew so little of their business.

Few Good Carpenters

They had, by habit, acquired the use of tools, and could perform a job of work after it had been laid out for them; but not more than one man in ten could himself lay out a frame readily and correctly.

Why Apprentices do not Learn

Now, it is not commonly because apprentices are unwilling to learn, or incapable of learning, that this is so, but it is because they have not the adequate instruction to enable them to become master-workmen.”

— William E. Bell ‘Carpentry Made Easy: The Science and Art of Framing’ (1858)

I think Bell’s comments ring as true today as they did when he wrote the above in 1858. I won’t focus on the lazy workmen uninterested in learning, but I will focus on those who want to keep learning new skills. As with many of life’s pursuits, you’ll get out of it what you put into it, and there is much to be learned if you know where to look.

Finding a good carpenter

Most of the best carpenters and woodworkers I know get the majority of their work via word of mouth and are booking months out at a time and  thus don’t have to invest much in marketing. If you’re looking to find one of the ‘few good carpenters’, ask around at a local woodworking school, shop, guild, club or friends and family for referrals and interview your next carpenter.

Learning More

One of the best ways to learn a woodworking skill is to take a class or workshop.

I have a few upcoming workshops this spring at the North Bennet Street School (details below) and there are some seats available if you are interested in joining me.

Molding planes
Molding planes

Making Traditional Moldings Using Hand Planes @ The North Bennet Street School

Saturday, April 12 – Sunday April 13 2014

8:30 AM – 4:30 PM Register

Instructor: Bill Rainford
$365

Learn to use traditional molding and joinery planes to produce beautiful traditional molding profiles. Learn the basics of tuning and using these planes. Build a basic sticking board, used to hold the moldings you are making. Layout and execute historic profiles. We discuss the history of traditional moldings, examine planes/profiles students bring (optional) and, if there is time, an introduction to carved moldings.

Shutters Workshop
Shutters Workshop

Introduction To Shutters @ The North Bennet Street School

Saturday, March 15 – Sunday March 16, 2014

8:30 AM – 4:30 PM Register

Instructor: Bill Rainford
$365

Learn about traditional wooden shutters in this two-day workshop. Using traditional joinery, students build a sample shutter and learn the skills needed to layout and build shutters for custom projects. Discussion includes interior and exterior uses, fielded panels and louvered styles. Students should be able to plane and square up a board by hand and have some experience laying out and cutting traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery by hand. Some experience with tuned hand tools and power tools is required.

Traditional Shutters
Traditional Shutters

 

If the above does not appeal to you, there are several schools around the country that teach solid woodworking and carpentry skills. I encourage your to explore classes at any of these schools: The North Bennet Street School in Boston, The College of the Redwoods in California, The Heartwood School, The Shelter Institute in Maine, Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, The Kelly Mehler School of Woodworking, Phil Lowe’s Furniture Institute of MassachusettsConnecticut Valley School of Woodworking, and Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s School

If you’re not able to make it to one of the above schools there are scores of books that can help you along your woodworking journey. I think every carpenter would benefit from reading all 4 volumes of Audel’s Carpenter’s Guide, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Vol 1-3, Bell’s Carpentry Made Easy: The Science and Art of Framing, and Get Your House Right.

Woodworking is a life long journey and I hope that you will continue pursuing new aspects of the craft.

Take care,
-Bill

NBSS Drywall Workshop October 2013

Teaching a weekend workshop is often like a two day stage performance. I’m up at dawn to prep, drive down, unload, on my feet non-stop for the class, then cleanup, head home, quick dinner, then out like a light, and lather rinse repeat. For most people that sounds like torture, but for me it’s fun.

Light stick framing lesson, then hanging sheetrock
Light stick framing lesson, then hanging Sheetrock

I love to share my passion for woodworking with others and teaching helps to feed the tool and and supply kitty for my various projects .

Closing in the wall
Closing in the wall

Last weekend I taught a two day workshop on drywall, mud work and textures. I designed the class last January and this was the second time we ran it. I’m happy to say that it sold out both times and we covered a lot of ground given we only had 2 days to work.

Aerial view of the class
Aerial view of the class

Each student had the opportunity to learn all the basics needed to tackle a new drywall installation or repair project.

Using a hawk and applying mud to the corner joint
Using a hawk and applying mud to the corner joint

The course covered a wide range of topics including:

  • Basics of Stick Framing
  • Hanging Drywall and Coursing
  • Taping, Inside and Outside Corners
  • Working with ‘Mud’
  • Wet and Dry Sanding
  • Texture Work
  • Repairs
Wet sanding
Wet sanding

My last workshop back in May was going to be the last workshop the NBSS Arlington Location which is a 10,000 square foot workshop which was my home when I was a student at NBSS. (It used to be the workshop and classrooms for Preservation Carpentry and Carpentry departments at the school). The school has now relocated all the programs back under a single roof on North Street in the North End of Boston a couple of blocks from where the school spent its first 134 years. This workshop requires a lot of space, ceiling height and access to a large dumpster and with all the hustle and bustle of the school setting up at the new location it made sense to run this workshop in the old and largely empty space left in Arlington. The class went great, but the the one sad part for me was at the end of the second day when I had to say goodbye to the Arlington space for the second time. But like all good-byes, it is also a new beginning…

The good news is that I have a few workshops scheduled in the spring at the new campus location. You can learn more about them here.

-Bill

A move 134 years in the making…

The North Bennet Street School (NBSS), America’s Oldest Trade School, has been a Boston institution located at 39 North Bennet Street in the North End since 1879. The school was incorporated in 1885 and has a long history of offering vocational training and forward thinking social services which continue through today.

After more than a century at the original location the school eventually grew beyond what the old assemblage of buildings (an ex-church, sailor’s retirement home, townhouses etc)  could fit and some of the programs had to move to other locations around the Boston area. In an effort to re-unify the school, update the facilities, and get everyone under one roof again the school embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign and has now moved to 150 North Street in Boston (about 1/3 mile from the original location). This new building takes up a city block and has recently opened for the new school year. This new set of buildings once served as the Boston City Printing Press and a Police station. They sit above the entrance to the Callahan tunnel right on the Greenway. The buildings have a stately facade, are stoutly constructed and have an interior fitting for a school of this kind.

Wednesday night was the first North Bennet Street School Alumni Meeting at the new building. We had the opportunity to tour the new facility.I took as many pictures as I could with my iPhone and have shared them below as a virtual tour of the new building. This small set of photos do not do it justice, so I recommend coming by to see it in person yourself during this year’s open house events Nov 8-9. If you click on any of the photos below you can see it in a larger size and can also cycle through them like a slide show.

As a graduate of the Preservation Carpentry Program and workshop instructor at the school, the old building will always hold a special place in my heart, but I am happy to see this new building come together as it took an incredible amount of work by the school and its many supporters to pull of this move.

You can learn more about the history of the school here and here.

Take care,
-Bill

The Real Cost Of A Tool

When looking at the historic prices of tools, even after converting the dollar amounts into today’s prices it often does not give a truly accurate representation of what a tool really cost the person who bought it. I remember my first job in high school working in a retail clothing store for ~$5 an hour in 1997 which was the minimum wage in NY at the time. If I went to the store to buy something, part of that decision was always based on a calculation of ‘how many hours did I have to work to buy this item?’

Hammacher Schlemmer Sloyd Knife Ad -- The School Journal July 2, 1898
Hammacher Schlemmer Sloyd Knife Ad — The School Journal July 2, 1898

I wanted to apply this same logic to some of the tools in the 1900 Sloyd tool chest list we talked about here. I did some research and found that the average carpenter in 1899 made $2.30/day**. So that would mean the Sloyd cabinet full of tools which cost $11.91 would be about a week’s worth of wages to purchase  — 5.17 days to be exact.

Hammacher Schlemmer Sloyd Training Bench from 1898 ad in the School Journal
Hammacher Schlemmer Sloyd Training Bench from 1898 ad in the School Journal

This summer I had a chance to chat a bit with my cousin, master NYC woodworker James Cooper. (Or as he is known to the family — Jim)

Jim has been working in the craft for a long time and it was great to pick his brain a bit on this topic. I’ll recount some of my interview with him here:

“In 1971 we worked for $4/hr (although we were often wrong in estimating the time required) and the only catalog I could find from that era, 1973, is of a small German American maker of chisels and carving tools where Pattern Maker’s Chisels, 6mm – 30mm,  sold for $7.50 – $12.50 ea…….about  2 – 3hrs of labor! Today a competent mechanic in NY can earn $25/ hr and a decent 3/4″ (19mm) chisel can be had for $25 – $40 or rather less work then I exchanged 40 yrs ago. The most important point to emphasize is that whatever the cost, good to great hand tools will last a lifetime+ and, well used and cared for, will feed you for all that time, while never loosing value.

The early 20th Century Bailey 07 plane that I picked up, used but cleaned, at a flee market in 1981 for $100 (which at that time was about the cost of a new British Stanley) is worth $200+ today after my having used it for countless hours to realize 100s of projects over all that time…and it outperformed the British Stanley to boot! The $100 Bailey bought in 1981 was less then a days labor (about $125 / day at that time)!” — Jim Cooper

Taking the 3/4″ firmer gouge as an example I tried to plot it over time, and here are my findings so far:

Year Price Avg Pay Rate Time to earn it Notes
1900 $0.34 $0.23/hr 1.48 hours work $2.30/day, so assuming an 10 hour day for hourly rate at the time
1973 $10.00 $4.00/hr 2.5 Hours Assumption that during this time was potentially a low water mark for availability of quality tools in the US — all the old makers were on their way out, and new high end tools were only getting started
1981 $20.50 $12.50/hr 1.64 Hours Based on estimate of about $125/day and assuming a 10 hour day. Price of tool inflation adjusted from 1973 data point. Note also this was the time of a large global recession.
2013 $49.99 $25.00/hr 2 Hours Based on current price of a Henry Taylor 3/4″ in-cannel gouge from Traditional Woodworker which is very similar to that original gouge in the Sloyd tool chest

If any of my readers have some additional data points, I’d be happy to flesh this out more — especially before and after the world wars. So if you have an old tool catalog with prices from an earlier time (especially for a 3/4″ firmer gouge) or recall and are willing to share your pay rate at an earlier time (either hourly or daily) I would be happy to flesh this out more and see what else the data can teach us.

My conclusions based on all of this?
The availability of good quality tools, societies’ willingness to pay a craftsman a fair wage, tax codes, the macro-economic climate and the ability to find work in that field have all fluctuated over time which makes it hard to draw a lot of concrete conclusions without befriending an economist or gathering a lot more data. But having said that, I think all craftsmen and women have at one time or another done the mental calculation of current wage versus the price of that new tool and thought to themselves ‘I really need to charge a higher rate’ 😉

What to you think?  There are only so many working hours in a lifetime. Are you spending more on tools today relative to your hourly wage compared to earlier decades? Or are you coping in other ways? (Refurbishing old tools etc which still takes up a lot of time). I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

-Bill

** I used the following source for that pay rate data —  http://www.nber.org/chapters/c2486.pdf

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

Lights, Camera, Action….

I’m happy to report that the companion video series for my recent Fine Homebuilding article ‘Master Carpenter: Reproducing Traditional Moldings’ went online today.

Behind the scenes. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)
Behind the scenes. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)

I had a great time making the videos and I hope you will enjoy watching them. Several of them are free, though a few of them are reserved for FineHomebuilding.com (FHB) members only.

Bill Rainford using molding planes to reproduce traditional molding profiles. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)
Bill Rainford using molding planes to reproduce traditional molding profiles. (Photo courtesy of the Taunton Press)

Details below as they were presented this morning in Fine Homebuilding’s e-newsletter and where to find the videos:

Fine Homebuilding Logo
Fine Homebuilding Logo

In this Master Carpenter series, Bill Rainford shows how to get period details right with both power and hand tools.

Watch the intro video

Plus watch more free episodes from this series:
Interview with the craftsman
Bill chats about how traditional carpentry is better for his body and soul
An inside look at old-fashioned home building
Bill and senior editor Chuck Bickford visit the Alvah Kittredge House and dig into its traditional construction details

Sign in as a member or sign up for a FREE 14-day trial to see this complete series and much more.

Take care,
-Bill

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.