Tag Archives: NBSS

Traditional Sloyd Tool Cabinet

I recently had the opportunity to make a post to the Popular Woodworking online community which is edited by Dan Farnbach the PWM online editor.

Below is an extended version of that first post:

Bill Rainford -- Preservation Carpenter, Joiner, Instructor
Bill Rainford — Preservation Carpenter, Joiner, Instructor

Bill Rainford is a young and driven craftsman in whom I think you’ll find a lot in common. Voraciously self-taught at first, Bill went on to graduate from the Preservation Carpentry Program at one of New England’s premier craft schools. He now teaches workshops at that school (North Bennet Street) and serves as adjunct faculty at the Boston Architectural College, in addition to developing his own body of commissioned work, building his blog and holding down a day job in software. I want to welcome Bill to the community as an occasional guest writer. He’s going to bring us a little history and several techniques from his area of expertise, which he describes as traditional joinery –though Bill’s skills do not fit neatly in just one category.

We may also do a project plan over the course of the next few months. Please welcome Bill by reading this newsletter and then visiting his blog! Of particular interest is Bill’s recent collaboration with Roy Underhill – more on that at the bottom of this e-mail.

–Dan

What Sloyd Did For Me and My Woodworking Apprenticeship

Part of what made my training in preservation carpentry so rewarding was the way in which it was taught.  We followed a system of educational handwork derived from what was originally developed at Nääs in Sweden and known as the ‘Educational Sloyd System.’ Sloyd is the Swedish word for ‘craft’ and most commonly associated with skilled manual craft work. In the early years of the school in the late 19th century, there was a strong need in Boston and America as a whole to help new immigrants learn the skills needed to acclimate to this new country and develop skills to support oneself. This Sloyd System trained students by building a series of useful models/items each of which introduced basic tools and skills, built confidence to tackle more advanced work, and fostered the ability to evaluate your own work and push yourself to reach new levels of accomplishment.

Elementary Sloyd Training in traditional woodworking techniques
Elementary Sloyd Training based on traditional woodworking techniques

When Otto Aaron Salomon wrote ‘The Theory of Educational Sloyd‘ (page 7) he described the goals one should strove for in teaching and learning within this system.

The focus was not simply the ‘utilitarian aim’ :

  1. To directly give dexterity to the use of tools
  2. To execute exact work

There was also a larger, more ‘formative aim’ to the education:

  1. To instill a taste for, and love of, labour in general
  2. Inspire a respect for rough, honest, bodily labour
  3. Develop independence and self-reliance
  4. Train habits of order, exactness, cleanliness and neatness
  5. Train the eye and sense of form. To give a general dexterity of hand and to develop touch
  6. To accustom attention, industry, perseverance and patience
  7. To promote the development of physical powers

The goal of all this training was not just to help find a job, but to help round out the person. Students may never pick up a tool again, but they will forever have the knowledge of how to make and evaluate things with your hand and your eye and appreciate the labor of others – something I often feel is lacking in members of my generation.

Sloyd Knife grain direction exercise
Sloyd Knife grain direction exercise

Students in this sort of program would often start with a simple block of wood and a Sloyd knife and learn to make controlled cuts. From this modest exercise they will absorb 3 of the most important lessons a woodworker will ever learn:

  1. Cutting with the grain
  2. Cutting against the grain
  3. Splitting wood

From this most basic of exercises students are able to make usable objects like a pencil sharpener, letter opener, penholder etc. which they are able to keep, evaluate and use. As the training progresses the students will have more freedom to implement their own designs and apply the skills they have learned.

Fast Forward to Today

This sort of learning by doing, ability to be self critical, self-sufficient, and continually push oneself is still present at the school. In the current programs at NBSS students work under the supervision of a master craftsman who will start with the basics and guide students through their training. By the end of the 1, 2, or 3-year program, depending on major, students will demonstrate proficiency in many tasks, and while there is always more to learn they will be well situated to seek out and tackle the next big project.

After graduating from my training, I remained interested in Sloyd and did further research on the topic. I learned that many of the benches and hanging tool cabinets designed and produced for early Sloyd programs were based on the designs of Gustaf Larsson of The Boston Sloyd School and produced locally in Boston. Some of the benches are still in use by the school and you can find some second hand every now and then on eBay, but the hanging tool cabinet was news to me.

Sloyd Tool Cabinet Advertisement from the late 19th/early 20th century
Sloyd Tool Cabinet advertisement from the late 19th/early 20th century

Shortly after learning about the Larsson tool cabinet I made a serendipitous discovery at a local pawn shop in New Hampshire – I actually found one of these cabinets and in very good shape given its age. All the hardware was intact, and only the front door was rebuilt. It was clear that this cabinet was used for a very long time by someone who cared about it, as the replacement door inherited the hardware and layout of the original.

My antique Sloyd tool cabinet
My antique Sloyd tool cabinet

I am working on a reproduction of this piece, and will be presenting parts of that project here and on the Popular Woodworking blog. Future posts will include a bit on how the cabinet was made, interesting details on the tools that once inhabited this cabinet, as well as notes and prices on modern equivalents. If there is interest I will also make some explorations into some of the Sloyd exercises which can help improve your own hand skills.

Roy Underhill is a fellow Sloyd enthusiast and has been inspirational to me in my research. I caught up with him this week and he offered even more wisdom on the topic, saying:

“Everyone human likes to move, so we came up with yoga, dance and sport to make movement more engaging and expanding. So too with woodworking and Sloyd. The exercises of Sloyd can bring every modern woodworker along a thoughtful path of liberating discipline, of progress and accomplishment — and reconnection with the good feelings of our ancient craft.”

Using your Sloyd Training
Using your Sloyd Training

If you’d like to join me in re-connecting with the joy of our ancient craft of woodworking I will be taking some classes at Roy’s Underhill’s ‘The Woodwright’s School’ in Pittsboro NC this July 9-12. The first class is Making a Traditional Jointer plane with Bill Anderson and the second class is Making a Traditional Metal Namestamp with Peter Ross. Both of these classes are a great way to learn some basic Sloyd skills and experience the satisfaction of using a high quality tool you made yourself for years to come. If you’d like more information on one or both of these classes, please check out my post on this topic here. If you are interested in attending, please do not wait to sign up — there is a minimum number of students needed to sign up by mid-June in order for the classes to run.

-Bill

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!

Measure Twice, Calculate Once

After drafting a new project or case piece but before you head to the lumber yard, you have to make a stock list. This inglorious bit of work is a necessary evil if you want to get all the necessary supplies on your first trip. The past few weeks I’ve been working on drafting up several upcoming projects and as I used this spreadsheet a few times and thought it was worth sharing with you.

Empty Stock List
Empty Stock List

Back when I was a student at the North Bennet Street School they had a nice little photocopy of a stock list that looked like it was originally made in Excel.  We’d enter all the details for our project and then calculate the board footage for our projects by hand with a calculator. This often tedious work was susceptible to the occasional human error so I’d usually wind up checking and rechecking my calculations as I went. After doing this a few times, the computer scientist in me thought ‘Wait a minute, I can code this up in Excel and let it do all the work for me’ — plus printing this spreadsheet for a customer or when dealing with a supplier looks better than a hand written version.

Stock List For Shutters
Example Stock List For Shutters

Highlights:

  • Keeps track of name of pieces, quantity
  • All values are in inches
  • Automatically calculates board footage
  • Adds common extra length (+1″), width (+1/2″) and thickness (+1/4″)
  • Totals up board footage
  • Adds extra at the end to take care of test cuts, small amount of scrap etc

This spreadsheet has worked well for me over the years and I hope you will benefit from using it as well. You can find a copy of it here (*.XLSX format):

Excel Stock List

New Workshops at NBSS Spring 2013

Just a quick note: I will be teaching some new workshops this spring at the North Bennet Street School’s Arlington, MA location.  My teaching schedule can be found here. I look forward to seeing some of you in class this spring or summer.

-Bill

Introduction to shutters @ The North Bennet Street School

Saturday, May 4 – Sunday May 5

8:30 AM – 4:30 PM Register

Instructor: Bill Rainford
$375

Shutters Workshop
Shutters Workshop

Learn about traditional wooden shutters in this two-day workshop. Using traditional joinery, students will build a sample shutter and learn the skills needed to layout and build shutters for your own home. 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. PLEASE NOTE THIS CLASS WILL BE HELD IN ARLINGTON.

Traditional Shutters
Traditional Shutters

Register

Hanging doors and windows: demo and discussion @ The North Bennet Street School

Saturday, June 8

8:30 AM – 4:30 PM Register

Instructor: Bill Rainford
$50

Completed door
Completed door

This one-day demonstration workshop includes installing a modern door, cutting to accommodate a door knob and lock set, mortising hinges, installing a modern window and related trim and flashing. We cover the proper tools for these projects and include ample time for questions throughout the day. PLEASE NOTE THIS CLASS WILL BE HELD IN ARLINGTON.

Register

Signing your name in wood…

It’s easy enough to sign your work with a Sharpie or branding iron…and I’ve done both many times in the past. But what if you are looking for something that will give your work that extra flourish? Or work on a massive scale like a timber framed barn? Or be a new sign for your shop? Often the best solution is to carve your own sign or inscription.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take a two day workshop in letter carving with Janet Collins at the North Bennet Street School.  I had a great time. Below is a quick recap of how I spent my Superbowl Weekend.

Demonstrating how to make the first cuts
Demonstrating how to make the first cuts

Janet is a graduate of the NBSS CFM program, instructor, former workshop director and accomplished artisan. She has a passion for woodworking and loves sharing the craft with others.

Laying out your letters
Laying out your letters

After sharpening your tools the first step is laying out your text first on paper or a computer.

Transferring your pattern
Transferring your pattern

Transfer your pattern on to the workpiece.

Carving
Carving

Now for the fun part — carefully carving your letters into the piece. You want to take a light touch, always be aware of the grain direction and strive for an even depth of cut.

Carver's natural habitat
Carver’s natural habitat

Just as you can never have too many clamps, you can never really have too many carving chisels and gouges.

Completed name carving
My completed name carving

A raking light and solid platform to secure your work are requisites to success in this sort of work.

Gilding lesson
Gilding lesson

Beyond the carving exercises we were also treated to a nice demonstration on how to gild this sort of hand carved sign.

Janet Collins with completed sign
Janet Collins with completed sign

Pictured here is Janet with her carved and gilded number sign.

Chip carving samples
Chip carving samples

Beyond letter carving, these kinds of woodworking skills can be applied to may other forms of carving…

More chip carving
More chip carving

such as chip carving…

Chip and relief carving samples
Chip and relief carving samples

relief carving…

Celtic knot and floral carving
Celtic knot and floral carving

organic designs, geometric designs, anything you can imagine. The above sample boards are just a few from the large bag of samples Janet brought to show the class.

Carved and Gilded sign at NBSS
Carved and Gilded sign at NBSS

Above is a hand carved and gilded sign honoring the founder of NBSS — Pauline Agassiz Shaw. If you study it carefully you can see how it was clearly laid out by hand and shows many of the tool marks and design cues you’d expect to see in hand work. Pictured below is a nice old sign in the Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS which is a combination of painting and carved details — “All Kinds Of Woodwork Done Here” which is an apt description for what goes on in the upper bench room. I am also partial to the “Please don’t feed the woodworker” sign.

"Don't feed the woodworkers" and "All Kinds of Woodwork Done Here" signs by the entrance to Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS.
“Don’t feed the woodworkers” and “All Kinds of Woodwork Done Here” signs by the entrance to Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS.

After taking this course I have a new sign for my workshop, and a whole new appreciation for hand carved signs. Next time you are walking around your town take a moment to look at some of the carved signs and see if you can differentiate the ones that were carved by hand versus those which were made by machine. After looking at a few of them you’ll likely see that many of the signs with the best details were carved by hand.

I’m looking to make some signs for my barn and workshop and will be sure to post them here on the blog. In the meantime you can learn more about Janet Collins and her work via her website here and here. And if you are interested in taking workshops at NBSS you can find out more here.

Building Walls and Slinging Mud

This past weekend at the North Bennet Street School I taught a new 2 day workshop that I designed on framing, drywall, mud and texture work. It was an opportunity for students to learn the techniques necessary to properly install or repair drywall around their homes, improve their finishing and texture skills and ask questions.

Bill Teaching
Bill discussing technique

It was a lot of material to cover in 2 days, but the class was enthusiastic and put in the hard work necessary to get through all the major exercises.  Below is a highlight reel from the class:

Laying out the frames
Laying out the frames

Once each student finished his/her frame they were assembled into wall sections.

Assembling the frame sections
Assembling the frame sections

Each student had their own workspace to practice in.

Students cutting and hanging sheetrock
Cutting and hanging Sheetrock

Cutting, hanging, coursing, cleaning up edges etc.

Bill Demonstrating Technique
Bill demonstrating how to blend coats of mud

Hands on demonstrations of technique

Taping and initial mud work
Taping and initial mud work

Working around obstructions like outlet boxes, taping, and initial coat of mud.

Wet and Dry Sanding
Wet and Dry Sanding

Sanding the initial coat of mud and applying subsequent coats.

Applying Texture
Applying Texture

Patching, repairs and applying various finishing and texture techniques.

It was an informative and enjoyable experience and I look forward to teaching similar workshops in the future. If you have requests for other workshop topics you’d like to see covered, please let me know.

Getting a grip on a solid mallet

A good mallet of often overlooked. All too often we settle for a store bought carving mallet or crude instrument we fashioned in a hurry and then live with for years. Before the holidays I decided is was time to make a nice larger mallet for myself and one for a friend. I wanted a mallet that was a little larger and heavier than the average.

You can never have too many clamps, especially when clamping up a blank wherein you do not want to see any glue lines.
You can never have too many clamps, especially when clamping up a blank wherein you do not want to see any glue lines. Plus it takes on the look of some modern art work. 😉

I decided to make my new mallet out of cherry and hard maple as they are two of my favorite woods to work with, and I like they contrast they have with each other when finished. The hard maple (Same I used for my workbench) is hard, dense and wears well, and the cherry (From a curly cherry piece I had around the shop) has a nice even tone and finishes well.

Blanks ready to be turned
Blanks ready to be turned

In making this sort of mallet, the stock preparation work is more important than the actual turning and finishing. That is why its critical to get the mating surfaces planed dead flat and take the time to clamp it up tightly (don’t starve the joint of glue) but make sure you do not have gaps or you will have unsightly glue lines and a potentially weaker mallet.

First Mallet Turned, Next to the blank
First Mallet Turned, Next to the blank

Why would someone spend so much time and effort to make a fancy mallet you are only going to beat the heck out of?

If you’ve ever turned a mallet from a single piece of wood and used it for a while you’re likely to see parts of it eventually come flying off — but only from two sides.  This leaves you with an unbalanced mallet which may not hit your chisel the way you want. Where quarter sawn grain is exposed the wood is mostly intact after years of use, but where long grain is exposed some hard hits can take advantage of the plane of weakness in the wood causing them to fly off. They break off much the way splitting a piece of wood with a froe separates the grain.

The good news is there is a way to avoid this…

Completed Mallet
Completed Mallet

By gluing up a mallet as you can see here the hard maple pieces are quarter sawn — so on all 4 sides of the finished mallet you have nice dense quarter sawn hardwood grain oriented in such a way that it should have a nice long service life even under harsh conditions — plus it’s pleasing to look at especially with contrasting woods.

End of mallet with finish applied
End of mallet with finish applied

Won’t it break apart with seasonal movement or use? I used Tite-Bond II for the glue which has been proven to be stronger than wood when used in long grain to long grain bonds. The center or handle piece of wood should be a well seasoned hardwood ideally rift sawn and known to be stable. I’ve seen many of these mallets get heavy shop for years and hold up very well. A similar mallet is often a regular project the cabinet and furniture making program at NBSS.

Completed Mallet
Completed Mallet

You should take the time to fit the handle to your hand and make it as austere or ornate as you see fit. I particularly like how the laminated structure of the blank results in nice contrasting areas like you see on the bead in the above photo.  I do a lot of period work so I was thinking about the 18th century as I turned these mallets. Most of it is finished with the skew chisel and needed almost no sanding. The finish is tongue oil with a very light coat of wax only on the end grain and handle. I look forward to it providing years of solid service.

 

NBSS Holiday Party 2012 + BAC Building Opening

During the holidays there is always so much to do, so many errands to run, so many people to try and catch up with, and all of the other usual holidays stresses. Even with all the running around, one of my favorite events of the season is the North Bennet Street School Holiday party. For me it always evokes images of what I imagine a party at Old Fezziwig’s warehouse would be like.

Band Playing at the NBSS Holiday Party
Band Playing at the NBSS Holiday Party

There is always lively holiday music being played on a fiddle recently made by its owner.  Lance plays a tune on his saw. Everyone brings homemade dishes. Many of us are covered in saw dust or smudges from the shop and there is a energy in the room. The annual table hockey tournament is being played to a cheering crowd.

A view of the NBSS Holiday Party
A view of the NBSS Holiday Party

The room is alive with students, faculty and alumni talking about their work, their passions and the year ahead.

Front of the new home to NBSS after 125+ years on North Bennet Street they are moving to a larger facility that will put the entire school back under one roof.
Front of the new home to NBSS after 125+ years on North Bennet Street they are moving to a larger facility that will put the entire school back under one roof. Located right off the greenway the new building has a nice street presence.

This year (Thursday 12/13/12) was the first North Bennet Street School Holiday Party at the new building which is located at 150 North Street in Boston which is now partially occupied by the school (the rest of the departments to move in this coming year).

Side view of North Street Building. This rear corner is where Preservation Carpentry will reside.
Side view of North Street Building. This rear corner is where Preservation Carpentry will reside.

The new building will start an exciting new chapter in the school’s history. While I am nostalgic for the original NBSS building which had a lot of unusual quirks and a TON of history in the walls, the new space is starting to take on a life of its own and as more tools make it up onto the walls and the old benches find their way to their new homes you can see a distinctly NBSS feel develop.

New workspace for the Bookbinding program
New workspace for the Bookbinding program

The Bookbinding program was one of the first to move into the new space. And even during the party a few dedicated folks are still toiling away at their benches as party-goers make the rounds to see what students have been up to.

DSCN7022
Massive wooden bookbinding presses waiting to be set up

Walking the halls you can see all the tools and equipment that have seen many years of use.

Violin making department -- even during the party a few students were still working at their benches
Violin making department — even during the party a few students were still working at their benches

In the violin making department there are a few more folks finishing up their bench work. The new space is larger and more spread out.

A Violin being constructed
A Violin being constructed

The school also has many of the posters from the new ‘Do What You Love Every Day’ marketing campaign you can see around the city and in related trade magazines. It really captures a core tenet of the NBSS Philosophy and how skilled hand work is a very fulfilling vocation.

'Do What You Love Every Day' NBSS Ad campaign (In this poster is a friend named Nikki from Bookbinding)
‘Do What You Love Every Day’ NBSS Ad campaign (In this poster is a friend named Nikki from Bookbinding)

You can learn more about NBSS and their efforts to bring the school ‘Under One Roof’ here on the website. There is also a powerful video clip about why this move means so much to the NBSS community and the surrounding neighborhood.

'Do What You Love Every Day'
‘Do What You Love Every Day’

Thursday was a busy night for me in the city. After the NBSS Holiday Party I had to head over to the BAC to see the public opening of the new building they’ve renovated/re-purposed at 951 Boylston Street in Boston.

Entrance to 951 Boylston Street Boston, a new building for the BAC. The desk shown here was fabricated by NBSS students
Entrance to 951 Boylston Street Boston, a new building for the BAC. The desk shown here was fabricated by NBSS students

On display in the entry way is a beautiful desk and shelving system which was fabricated by NBSS students.

Interior of 951
Interior of 951

The interior of this building is now a bright and modern space designed to celebrate student work, host school and community events, and provide more studio space for students.

Me, in front of an example of what will be preserved in the old building
Me, in front of an example of what will be preserved in the old building

Above I am standing in front of a section of this building which was a hot topic of discussion during the summer Historic Preservation (HP) classes at the BAC. Originally this historic masonry work was going to be concealed in the wall, but with some pushing from the HP students and faculty this architectural detail will be the subject of upcoming materials conservation work and will be incorporated into the design of the space and a creative example of work on display.

BAC Student work on display
BAC Student work on display

You can learn more about this new space at the BAC here.

It was a great night to be in downtown Boston and helped get me into the spirit of the holidays.
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Well Done Wellington

The historic Wellington House in Waltham MA dates back to the late 1700s and has a long history which was almost lost to development. In recent years this house has seen some exterior restoration, but now things are progressing on the interior as well. This post is the tale of how the kitchen fireplace surround was documented and restored.

Front of the Wellington House
Front of the Wellington House

First some history about the house:

It was home to the Wellington Family from 1779 – 1930 when it was sold to the state and became part of the Middlesex County Hospital and was used as an office for some of the hospital administration. After the hospital closed the house stood abandon for 20+ years and the weather and neglect took a toll on the building

Interior Front Door of the Wellington House
Interior Front Door of the Wellington House

This house is an interesting specimen of Massachusetts Architecture from the time of the revolutionary war, the local militia and the large percentage of original details that remain intact in the house, though many of them are in desperate need of preservation.

Central Stair Hall, Wellington House, Waltham MA
Central Stair Hall, Wellington House, Waltham MA

In 1989 the house was put on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.  As a developer was looking to develop the acreage behind this historic property the city of Waltham had the foresight to ask that this house be donated back to the town along with funds to cover the restoration work. Since that time the roof was replaced, some structural stabilization was carried out and much of the exterior has been touched up, but the interior is another story. Once restored this building will eventually serve as the offices for the historical commission.

Now on to the interior of the main kitchen:

The 'Before' this was the kitchen fireplace surround as we found it
The ‘Before’ this was the kitchen fireplace surround as we found it

Above is what the kitchen looked like when I arrived at the house.

Steve O'Shaughnessy working with me on documenting what was left of this historic fabric
Steve O’Shaughnessy working with me on documenting what was left of this historic fabric

Steve O’Shaughnessy and I examined what was left and worked to document the fireplace surround, paneling, cabinets, hardware etc via photographs and site notes. Water had been infiltrating the chimney stack and was causing a lot of damage to this woodwork — along with various small animals. The paneling on the right side was bowed several inches off the wall. Sara Chase, NBSS adviser and paint analysis expert examined samples to determine the original color of the trim.

Carefully removing pins so we can disassemble the paneling
Carefully removing pins so we can disassemble the paneling

After initial documentation we carefully disassembled the paneling so the masonry could be examined and repaired and so the woodwork could also be restored.

Getting the large panel and surround down in one piece (Pictured Bill Rainford)
Getting the large panel and surround down in one piece (Pictured Bill Rainford)

Getting the central panel out in a single piece was an accomplishment and while exhausted at the time we were happy that everything came out without breaking anything and it even revealed a nice surprise….

Signed and dated 1904 in beautiful cursive -- likely when the panel was put back in to cover the earlier hole made when a stove was installed
Signed and dated 1904 in beautiful cursive — likely when the panel was put back in to cover the earlier hole made when a stove was installed

Behind the large panel was a large signature in fancy cursive writing that read: “Ernest S Farr January 28th 1904” I did some digging around on the internet and found that there was an Ernest S Farr (ca 1874-1920) in Middlesex who was married to Ida Farr and had a daughter named Helen N Farr in 1895.

The masonry seeing the light of day for the first time in well over 100 years (At least since 1904, possibly since 1799)
The masonry seeing the light of day for the first time in well over 100 years (At least since 1904, possibly since 1799)

With the paneling removed you could see the masonry work of the chimney mass. You could see the heavy wood lintel was sagging a bit, but otherwise the masonry was largely intact. You could also see the scars of installing a stove into the main chimney flue and also into the flue for the beehive oven.  It appears that the work of Ernest S Far was to replace the fielded panel and cover in the stovepipe hole in the primary fireplace, which leads me to think the stovepipe in the beehive oven was the later addition. I also have to comment that Ernest did a very good job getting that panel in place without disturbing the other woodworking — when we removed the rest of the surround we could see the cut nail holes and the rest of the paneling were original to the first installation.

Martin Hickman fine tuning some hardware during installation
Martin Hickman fine tuning some hardware during installation

My friend and colleague Martin Hickman (also from NBSS) restored the woodworking that was removed. This was a laborious task that took many days to complete.

Restored paneling being re-installed (Pictured Martin Hickman)
Restored paneling being re-installed (Pictured Martin Hickman)

Beyond the dissassembly, paint scraping and basic repairs , Martin also had to work to remove the large bow in the paneling caused by the water damage

Martin finishing up the final pieces of the installation
Martin finishing up the final pieces of the installation

Martin’s efforts paid off well as the final product once re-installed would likely have looked very familiar to the original Wellington’s who once inhabited this house. This room will eventually be used as a conference room for the Waltham Historical Commission.  If you notice the small patch above the fireplace that is an area deliberately preserving the long paint history of this woodwork and will be exposed as a reminder to the later inhabitants of the room.

The 'After' -- the restored surround, paneling and cabinets have been re-installed and are looking great. The off color patch in he middle will be preserved under glass as a reminder of the change this woodworking has seen and for future paint analysis if ever needed again in the future.
The ‘After’ — the restored surround, paneling and cabinets have been re-installed and are looking great. The off color patch in he middle will be preserved under glass as a reminder of the change this woodworking has seen and for future paint analysis if ever needed again in the future.

While there is a LOT of work that remains on the rest of the interior the Wellington House is off to a great start and I hope that the rest of the building will be restored to its earlier glory in the coming years.

You can learn more about the Wellington House and some of its history here.

Highlights from the 2012 Timber Framer’s Guild Conference in Leesburg VA

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Timber Framer’s Guild Conference at the National Conference Center in Leesburg VA.

From meeting a lot of the top timber framer’s in the country, to great talks, joint busting and axe throwing there was a lot to take in.  Below is a quick recap of some of the more memorable events from this year.

Conference T-Shirt, Wood Bookmark, Swag from the show
Conference T-Shirt, Wood Bookmark, Swag from the show

I was excited to meet a lot of the guys who helped to found the Timber Framer’s Guild and wrote many of the books I often reference in my work and teaching: Jack Sobon, Ted Benson, Will Beemer, and many others. It was also great to see lots of friends from the field and make new connections.

Keynote Presentation by Ted Benson
Keynote Presentation by Ted Benson
Hard, Slow Learning: We Weren't Very Good Yet, but at Least We Were Skinny -- from Ted Benson's Talk
Hard, Slow Learning: We Weren’t Very Good Yet, but at Least We Were Skinny — from Ted Benson’s Talk

Rich Friberg, my good friend and the second year instructor at the North Bennet Street School gave an interesting talk on Preservation Principles and Methods and showed off some of the great work the school is doing.

Rich Friberg Talking About Historic Preservation Topics
Rich Friberg Talking About Historic Preservation Topics

We also got the chance to meet Thomas C. Hubka author of “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England” and learn about his current research as well as the other projects he’s been involved with including the Timber Framed Synagogue in Europe.

Thomas C. Hubka author of "Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England"
Thomas C. Hubka author of “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England”

I was excited to get up on stage Friday night and talk about some of the timber framing work I did with NBSS.  Shown below I was discussing the new square rule barn and also the historic ~1791 two bay English Style Barn we restored at Brookwood Farm in Canton MA.

Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm
Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm
Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm on Friday Night
Bill Rainford (Me) talking about some work I did with NBSS at Brookwood Farm on Friday Night

BANG — CRACK — SNAP — JOINT BUSTING! In a corner of  the trade show portion of the conference during the inter-session breaks we got to see a lot of the joint busting competition.  Basically you build a timber framed joint meeting some specific size specifications and it is placed into a hydraulic or pneumatic press that will apply an incredible amount of pressure to see what it would take to cause the joint to fail. This info is projected on the screen and also logged by computer sensor for research purposes. When the joint fails it often makes quite the sound.

Joint busting competition at the trade show
Joint busting competition at the trade show
Some of the many and varied joints that were busted this year
Some of the many and varied joints that were busted this year
Great looking joint with carved embellishments
Great looking joint with carved embellishments

Look out for flying axes at the AXE THROWING COMPETITION!
Outside the guild setup some targets and allowed us to practice our axe throwing before the big competition. I had never thrown an axe before, but after a quick lesson, it was a lot of fun and with a little practice we made some good shots.

Kim Catlin (NBSS Graduate) Throwing an Axe
Kim Catlin (NBSS Graduate) Throwing an Axe
Bill Rainford (NBSS) Throwing an Axe
Bill Rainford (NBSS) Throwing an Axe
Axe in flight
Axe in flight
Bill Rainford (Me) standing next to my bullseye shot
Bill Rainford (Me) standing next to my bullseye shot

I had a great time at the show, I’m all fired up to get out in the yard and start hewing and framing some more outbuildings and I can’t wait to go back next year!