Tag Archives: North Bennet Street School

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

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.

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

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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