Tag Archives: NBSS

Those Tools Travel In Style — Rolling Tool Cart

Are you a busy woodworker on the go? Looking for some more hand tool luggage to go with your saw till? Then look no further than this stylish Hand Tool Cart!  Its clean lines and stylish fenders will turn heads as you roll from the workshop to the trade show. But wait, there’s more…..

OK, now that we’ve chased that car salesman out of the shop we can talk about the details. I based the design on a ‘Tool Caddy’ I saw in issue 158 of Wood Magazine from 2004; though I made some modifications/additions. I scaled up the width of the chest to fit a #8 plane and panel saws. I built out a full set of drawers to hold planes and marking gauges etc. I added locking clasps on the front so it can be locked. I installed safety chains on both sides of the flip top lid — which is where I store items I use most frequently — combo square, brush, card file, scraper, scale, marking gauge etc. The lid also locks inside the protected zone covered by the main chest doors. The luggage style handle mechanism is made from copper pipe and folds out of the way when not in use. I also added heavy duty chest pulls to aid in maneuvering the chest as it can get heavy fast. I particularly like the fenders as a finishing touch. I also took care to match wood grain across the pieces. The cart is made from birch plywood, finished with 4 coats of polyurethane and 2 coats of wax. I’ve used it for several years now and it has been a great addition to the shop.

What did you do for summer vacation? A Decathlon in Historic Preservation?!

Back in grade school, I enjoyed when students would get up in front of the class and talk about what they did for their summer vacation. This summer rather than taking a rest from a very recent move to New Hampshire and new job earlier in the year I decided to spend it pursuing my passion for teaching traditional craft skills.

I’ve been teaching the ‘Traditional Building’ master’s class at the Boston Architectural College (BAC) in partnership with the North Bennet Street School (NBSS). It’s a low residency master’s program in Historic Preservation wherein students come in from around the country for a very intensive hands on week in Boston and spend the rest of the semester working online.  For 8 straight days the students are with me from the early morning until dinner time, they grab a quick bite to eat and spend their evenings completing the intensive portion of their other class this semester ‘Preservation Philosophy and Practice’ with Virginia ‘Ginny’ Adams.

Some highlights of the week included:

  •  A walking tour of many historic homes and buildings in Boston including the Paul Revere House, Otis House, Gibson House and Trinity Church hosted by Steve O’Shaughnessy who is the Head of the NBSS Preservation Carpentry Department
Walking tour of historic buildings and homes in Boston
Walking tour of historic buildings and homes in Boston
  • Learning about how to mix and analyze paint with historic paint expert Sara Chase who is a PC program adviser to NBSS
Mixing paints and related analysis
Mixing paints and related analysis
  • Learning about historic hardware and fasteners with preservation expert Robert Adam (former head of PC program at NBSS) and touring the Saugus Ironworks NHP
At the Saugus Ironworks NHP
At the Saugus Ironworks NHP
  • A private tour of the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston
Group shot at the MFA
Group shot at the MFA
  • Historic plaster work with master plasterer Andy Ladygo — another adviser to the NBSS PC Program
Historic Plastering
Historic Plastering
  • Traditional woodworking (hand planes, moldings etc) and Historic Window Sash Restoration with Bill Rainford (NBSS PC Graduate and Workshop Instructor)
Sash restoration work
Sash restoration work
  • Historic Timber Framing with Rich Friberg — NBSS Preservation Carpentry instructor and master wood turner

    Timber Framing
    Timber Framing. Photo by Zachary Ingalls
  • To commemorate the experience Robert Ogle, MDS Director at the BAC had the shirts below made up for the class which will be a new tradition for this program. I’m happy to report that everyone survived the week.
"I survived the HP Intensive Week @ The BAC Fall 2012"
“I survived the HP Intensive Week @ The BAC Fall 2012”

Once the intensive was over, everyone took a quick breath, headed home and have been busy with their cameras and notebooks applying some of the skills they learned to their own work and later assignments in the class ever since.

All in all it was a great way to spend a summer vacation.

Woodworking at 55 MPH

Woodworking comes in many forms and has many specialties. One of the more interesting niche areas of woodworking is the dedicated group of craftsmen restoring and maintaining Woodie Wagons. (The iconic cars of the 1950s and popularized by many a movie and the surfer culture) One such craftsman is my friend Steve O’Shaughnessy who is also the head of the Preservation Carpentry Department at the North Bennet Street School.

When visiting the the shop the other day I took some quick pics of his current project which is the restoration of a 1952 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon. Back in the 1950s some of this woodworking and maintenance was performed by the local Buick dealership — imagine that today?

Steve has been meticulous in going through all the body and mechanical systems and cataloging all of the original wooden parts of the car. Since then he has systematically been replicating the wood pieces from Ash using a combination of his duplicarver system, skill and perseverance — as many of the pieces have delicate compound angles that have to fit just right in order for everything to line up. He was able to consolidate the original pieces and use them as templates when fabricating the new parts, but even with those templates on hand it still takes a lot of work to get it all fitting tight.

When he’s done he’ll have a classic show car and a piece of fine furniture he can drive down the highway at 55MPH — I can’t wait to see it completed.

Let There Be Light — Installing New Hand Built Windows

In many posts we’ve talked about why old windows are worth saving and how to build or restore  sash for them, but not much on what it would take to build a new window complete with jamb and trim and install it.

Completed window installed in the side of the barn
Completed window installed in the side of the barn

A while back I had just such an opportunity when working on the timber framed barn workshop of my friend Rich. Much of the work for these windows took place in the shop — building traditional single hung (one moving sash) true divided light windows. A hand built window can offer a VERY long service life, be easily repaired and often look much better than anything you can buy commercially. The ability to build a new jamb to go along with your sashes will allow you to really fine tune the movement of the windows, the exact choice of hardware — if any and allow you to create a distinctive look for your home.

Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.
Bill cutting through the wall to install my window.

Once the shop work was completed, the jamb is complete, the sash are fitted, glazed and the paint has dried it was time to install the completed window unit into the barn.  When working on a timber framed barn you’ll want to make sure you’ve carefully laid out where you want the windows to go — you generally do not want your window obstructed by braces or other framing members. You’ll also want to make sure that you have added in sufficient nailers and/or studs so that your window can be firmly attached to the building.

These hand built windows, complete with jamb, sills, casing and leaded flashing install much the same way you would install an Anderson or Pella new construction drop in window. You’ll want to take the same time and effort to level the window, add insulation if needed, and flash out the window. Once installed you can trim out the interior of the window to blend with the interior surfaces.

Me posing with the newly installed window
Me posing with the newly installed window

If you’ve invested the time to learn how to build a traditional window sash, building an entire window as described here can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience — plus with these new found skills you can go off and build a window of any size and shape.

Below is a quick slideshow of the above windows being installed into a timber framed barn.

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NBSS Graduation Revisited

It’s that time of year again for Dads and grads and I was asked what NBSS graduation was like. Since I was not able to attend this year’s ceremony in person I will have to post some pictures of what it was like when I graduated.

Like so many other activities at NBSS, graduation is another event with lots of history. The day starts out with a meet and greet at the School where students can show of some of the fruits of their labors. Then over to the adjacent Old North Church of Paul Revere fame for the graduation ceremony. You can feel the excitement in the air and sense the history as everyone packs into the church.

There are several speakers including school administration, the guest speaker, and the Distinguished Alumni Award winner, then it’s on to the diplomas and celebrations. Last year and again this year we had great weather.

Below is a gallery of some key moments from that day.

Next post, back to woodworking. 🙂

NBSS Distinguished Alumni Award Winner: Brent Hull PC ’93

One of the many traditions at the North Bennet Street School is recognizing a distinguished member of the alumni community each year at the graduation ceremony. With so many talented individuals coming out of the school it is often hard to choose just one person, and this year was no exception.  As part of the alumni council we each presented candidates from our own department(s) to the other members of the council and the school administration and at the end of the meeting took a vote.

This year I am happy to report that we have our first Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA) winner from the Preservation Carpentry Department — Brent Hull.

Brent Hull (left) and Robert Adam (right)
Brent Hull (left) and Robert Adam (right)

Brent was part of the class of 1993 and studied under Robert Adam. After graduating he returned to his native Texas and started his own company. From a modest beginning working in his brother’s garage, and a lot of hard work, Brent went on to build the Hull group of companies, which now employs over 50 artisans and related staff. He runs a successful construction and consulting firm, is the exclusive millworks provider for the Winterthur museum, has restored historic courthouses in Texas and worked on many private residences including those of Barbara Streisand. Beyond the commercial success, Brent has also been a prolific writer in the field of traditional interior designs and moldings publishing several books on these topics. Brent also enjoys educating his customers and the general public via teaching forums on the merits of traditional design and craftsmanship.

Brent Hull Speaking to both PC Classes
Brent Hull Speaking to both PC Classes

The day before graduation, Brent stopped by the Arlington shop to speak with the PC ’12 and ’13 classes. He shared his thoughts on what he enjoyed most about the program, shared some hard learned lessons, tips on how to start a business and select customers and some guidance around areas students should learn more about after graduating.

Rich Friberg, Bill Rainford, Brent Hull, Robert Adam (left to right)
Rich Friberg, Bill Rainford, Brent Hull, Robert Adam (left to right)

Above, second year instructor Rich Friberg PC’04, Bill Rainford PC’11, Brent Hull PC’93 and Robert Adam long time PC department head and founder of the program gather in the office to celebrate the day. Robert also shared some of his wisdom with the students and reminded those who are from outside of New England that it has been his experience that the further students get away from Boston the more successful they often are given the concentration of graduates in the immediate area.  This was great news for many of our students from around the country and abroad who will be going home with a great set of skills.

Johnathan Ericson handing out his Attendance Awards / Scholarship
Johnathan Ericson handing out his Attendance Awards / Scholarship. Accepting the award is Frank Di Francesco PC’12

Rounding out the afternoon, Johnathan Ericson PC’11 gave out the Attendance Awards / Scholarship that he started last year. It consists of a certificate and scholarship for those students who maintained a record of perfect attendance while a PC student. The message is clear — that hard work and dedication to show up each and every day is something that should be rewarded and will help new graduates when they get out into the field.

Congratulations to Brent and the PC Class of 2012 — you have a bright future ahead of you!

A Staircase for Very Skinny People

As a student at the North Bennet Street School, one of the many projects Preservation Carpentry students have to complete is the staircase model. The project is a great exercise for students as they each get to walk through the process of building a staircase from end to end. The only caveat is that the stair treads are only about 18″ wide since going full size in width does not add much to the learning experience and makes it feasible to have 10+ staircases in a single classroom.

Rough stringers in place
Rough stringers in place

Above we start off laying out and cutting the rough stringers and then move through each stage until we have a completed staircase. This is one of the projects wherein the students have some design freedom in how they want to trim out the staircase. Some were very modern and minimalist, some very plain vanilla with all square stock, some very traditional.

Turned walnut ballusters
Turned walnut balusters

I am an avid turner and had done a lot of finish carpentry before coming to the school so as a challenge to myself I decided I wanted to turn my own newel posts and balusters and finish off the piece as if it was installed in a house. It was a lot of extra effort, but a great experience. Once completed my staircase model was on display as part of the NBSS annual student works show and exhibit.

You can see the completed project here:

Completed staircase model
Completed staircase model

If you are interested in seeing a time lapse of how this staircase was built, please check out the slide show below:

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Making a Case for Building Traditional Window Sash by Hand

An important part of the Preservation Carpentry curriculum at the North Bennet Street School is working with traditional window sash. In earlier posts we’ve talked a lot about restoring old window sashes, but what about new work? Or a sash that is too far gone or not worth restoring? The best option is likely fabricating traditional window sash yourself. The task may seem formidable, but with some practice anyone with the time and determination can do it. I find the work to be quite enjoyable.

Completed sash with glazing in place
Completed sash with glazing in place

Having worked on many historic windows, and new factory made windows I definitely prefer earlier period windows (17th and 18th century). In our modern ‘throw away’ world most folks look at an old wooden window with disdain and are eager to toss them in the trash and get vinyl replacement windows. If I had my way that would be a crime against historic buildings. The media has everyone believing that modern windows are far more energy efficient and easier to live with compared to old windows and that is a view based on ignorance and marketing greed. I spent several years living in a rental house with brand new replacement vinyl windows and while they were only mid-range windows they were disgustingly drafty, hard to operate, could not be fixed if you broke a pane, and took away from the appearance of the home. A properly built and maintained traditional window can last for 100 years or more — a claim no modern window supplier would ever dare to claim. The key to the system is that ALL the pieces of traditional windows were of wood and designed so they could be regularly serviced and easily replaced — and since they are primarily wood the replacement parts are easily fabricated. Good luck finding a part of a manufactured window that far into the future.

Rich Friberg and Brom Synder fine tuning a muntin
Rich Friberg and Brom Synder fine tuning a muntin

Even though wooden sash may look delicate, you’d be surprised how strong they really are. The profiles are designed to look lighter than they really are, and when you start to add the glazing etc you’d be amazed how solid the sash will feel. A properly built window will have the necessary flashing in place and will not have any drafts or leakage. As the seasons change, open up and regularly inspect your windows. If you are concerned about stirring up lead dust on old windows, contact a window restoration or preservation specialist — and make sure they are EPA RRP licensed to do the work in accordance with the law. If your windows are sound but you’d like to try and bump up the efficiency of your home’s envelope, consider adding traditional style storm windows — which can be either interior or exterior style or both and should be divided light patterns that match your existing windows — try to avoid the aluminum clad plate glass style they have in the big box stores.

PRESERVATION TIP:

If you are living with an old window in your home that sticks — remove and inspect the sash. The sides of the window sash (aka the stiles) should NOT have any paint on the edges that run against the jamb. If you find your sticky window has paint on it, you should look to remove the paint from that edge and the jamb (in accordance with EPA RRP regulations) and then carefully wax those surfaces. The paint has thickness which makes it harder to move the window and with humidity can often get sticky/gummy. Make sure that you are careful when removing the paint from your sash that you do not also remove wood — you can’t replace it once its gone and you don’t want to wind up with a drafty window.

Setting the mirror with glazing points
Setting the mirror with glazing points

The skills you learn when making a window sash can be applied to make other areas of woodworking. Above is a nice little wall hung mirror I made for my wife out of some extra materials I had. This same skills can be used to make glass cabinet doors, full size mirrors, cases, doors, etc.

If you’d like to see the process of building your own window sash, please check out the slideshow below which walks through the process (you can see many NBSS PC2 students in action):

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2 Bay English Style Barn Raising at Brookwood Farm

On Friday 5/18/12 I was able to participate in an unusual barn raising at the Brookwood Farm in Canton MA. It was the culmination of several years of work by North Bennet Street School students and instructors. The barn is unusual in that it is one of, if not the oldest known surviving 2 bay English style timber framed barns in New England. (I documented some of the history in earlier posts on this topic if you are interested) The barn is also interesting in how it was framed — with 2 bays being asymmetric and an interesting use of rafters and purlins.

Rich overseeing construction
Rich overseeing construction

As a student I worked on the floor system (joists and sills) along with hewing some of the replacement gunstock posts from solid oak along with milling LOTs of material that will be used to side and otherwise finish this barn. The class year before my class they worked on documenting the barn, labeling and  dissembling the barn and working on the floor system. The class years to follow worked on restoring other members of the frame, laying up the foundation and now the raising.

School van in front of the barn frame
School van in front of the barn frame

The completed frame contains a mixture of original materials and new oak which was hand hewn and carefully cut to replace rotted materials. The result is a piece of local history that is now preserved for future generations (as it will likely be the focal point for many events at Bookwood Farm — known for its Maple Sugar Days)

Below you can see a series of photos capturing the raising and some other interesting sights from the big day:

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Old is New Again — Saltbox Door

Sometimes art imitates life and vice versa. Sometimes we make new products that look old, and during the late 20th and early 21st centuries often those new products don’t quite hit the mark — think pressed hollow core interior doors made to look like a 6 panel door.

My senior project at NBSS gave me an opportunity to take on my own revisionist history challenge when working on a circa 1700 SaltBox colonial home in Sherborn MA. The rear ell door (most used door by the family) looked like this:

The 'Before' picture. Original 20th century door to be replaced.
The ‘Before’ picture. Original 20th century door to be replaced.

Homes from that period would not have lights (aka window panes) in a traditional door, but most folks would not be consciously aware of that, and the family was used to having this more modern style door. Unfortunately for the green door pictured above it was at the end of its service life and a modern (20th century) factory made door not worth restoring. So the challenge to me was to build a  more traditional door that fit the opening, had lights in it, but better matched the style and molding profiles of the house.

I designed and built a more traditional door which you can see in progress below. It’s a 9 light (smaller panes), 4 panel door built in the traditional style from eastern white pine. The design was similar to a house found on the Wellington House in Waltham MA and some similar 6 panel doors of the period. All the major joints are draw bored and tenoned (so it can be repaired if need be 100 years from now), all the muntins were run by hand and coped, the lights were hand glazed, the panels were pre-finished so you won’t see raw wood as the seasons change etc. I also used a full size story stick when laying out the joinery and traditional hardware. (Period hinges and Suffolk latch). Other work included new door jamb and casing, oak threshold, leadwork flashing, touching up some insulation etc.

Door in progress. I pre-finished the panels so when they move with the seasons you will not see exposed unfinished wood.
Door in progress. I pre-finished the panels so when they move with the seasons you will not see exposed unfinished wood.

The result of all this work is a very nice door that looks like it was part of the house for a very long time.

Completed door
Completed door