Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fort Hunter

In a nearly insurmountable effort to distance ourselves from the sugar-laden Thanksgiving day leftovers (namely apple and cherry pies), we decided to tour the grounds and mansion at Fort Hunter.

This fertile land nestled between Blue Mountain and the Susquehanna River was originally occupied by the Susquehannock and Lenape Indian tribes.

In the 18th c., British settlers built a chain of forts throughout Pennsylvania, among which Fort Hunter, built in 1755 to protect settlers from Indian attacks, was centrally located.

In 1787, the land was purchased by Captain Archibald McAllister, who served under General George Washington during the Revolutionary War and who built the Tavern House (photo 3), Stone Stables (photo 4), Mansion House (photo 5), and other outbuildings on the plantation.

From 1788 through 1807, Archibald distilled alcohol and ran the tavern at Fort Hunter (among other businesses, including a sawmill), where travelers could stay for a night or two. The stable was constructed in "an unusual English drive-through form."

His son, Captain John McAllister bought the estate in 1833 and sold it to Daniel Dick Boas in 1870, who owned a saw and planing mill, for use as a gentleman's farm and summer home.

Boas built a traditional Pennsylvania German bank barn (photos 1 & 2), but with elaborate Gothic Revival details, for use as a dairy barn.

The property passed to Boas' daughter Helen and her husband and later to Helen's niece, who helped turn the estate into a museum.

Most of the furniture in the mansion was Victorian era (which I find frightening*), but a few pieces were older.

A large secretary in the parlour that was built in 1790 with flame-figured walnut (I think), features fan designs in figured maple (I think).

A little box with very thin dovetails, measured about 10" tall and sat atop a dresser.

At the time the mansion became a museum, a medicine box was found to contain laudanum—an opium-based painkiller widely used in the Victorian period for many ailments in both children and adults. It was also used to quiet babies. And it was highly addictive.

In the spring kitchen, our tour guide displayed an ice saw, used to break up ice on the Susquehanna River.

There was also an enormous dollhouse in the mansion which totally creeped me out. And because creeped-outedness loves company, I'm sharing it with you.

After the tour, we returned home and I managed to stay away from the pies. But tomorrow's another day...which might mean another historic home tour.

*My sincere apologies to those who love Victorian era f
urniture. But it reminds me of scary Vincent Price movies from my childhood.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Drawknives & Spokeshaves

Mike Dunbar's name is synonymous with Windsor chairmaking so it's no wonder that he taught the seminar at the WIA conference on Mastering the Drawknife & Spokeshave—two handtools that figure prominently in making Windsor chairs.

The drawknife is a workhorse meant to remove stock very quickly. Mike skewed the blade, starting at one end and sliced toward him to the other end of the blade, in quick action as he removed large pieces of wood fro
m his workpiece. The drawknife is used flat-side-down and has handles that are slightly lower than the blade.

The bevel (or bezel), is curved, not flat, and definitely not concave (as in hollow grinding). Because of this, you sharpen the blade with a stone or with 220 grit sandpaper
wrapped around a hardwood block (drawknives don't need to be as sharp as chisels and plane irons) and work along the entire surface of the bevel, not just the cutting edge, so you maintain the same angle. Mike didn't know the bevel angle (maybe 25º) but it is shown in the third photo.

Shaving horses are quaint, Mike said, but he prefers a bench vise. Vises allow you to work the entire way around a workpiece without removing and repositioning it and work with very long pieces.

Antique drawknives, according to Mike, are best prior to 1900, when manufacturers changed the shape of the bevel to either a flat or thumbnail shape. After 1900, he says, "Don't buy them." However, you can purchase new, correctly-shaped drawknives from Mike's website.

Conversely, spokeshaves are delicate creatures that are meant to be held lightly between your first two or three fing
ers and with thumbs directly behind the blade (on the push stroke). Mike uses spokeshaves from Dave's Shaves and Woodjoy, and suggests avoiding metal-bodied ones because they produce more chatter.

To sharpen
, Mike laps the flat side first and then uses something like this , a rotating disc of tempered glass with adhesive 600 grit sandpaper applied to it, to sharpen the bevel.

Spokeshaves come in a variety of shapes—flat, curved, and small soles—and can be used on either the push or pull stroke. If you are experiencing a lot of chatter, check that your workpiece is secured tightly or check the wood structure. Wood with alternating tight and open grain can produce a washboard effect, so you need to skew the blade as you shave.

To work a concave shape, shave down into the valley from both sides and lift up as you reach the bottom of the cut.

Spokeshaves can be used to shape cabriole legs, or virtually any shape, and the facets can be removed with files or sandpaper.

Mike's advice is to "Play with the tools. Don't wait to get to know them while you're working on a project."

And my advice is "Any reason to play in your shop is a good one." So....thanks, Mike!

The information above is from notes I took at Mike Dunbar's seminar. I have never used drawknives. I do, however, use 3 metal-bodied spokeshaves (Lee Valley) that I like very well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Helpers

Let's check in to see what everyone else in the house is doing
while I'm busy cleaning and cooking for Thanksgiving.....

Daisy Susan (Daisy)

Rosebud Grace (Rosie)

Charlie Jane
(Charlie, my parents' deaf and blind dog)

Anders Hjalmer (Andy, my parents' cat)

Ah yes, with this kind of help, I'll be able to take a nap in no time!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Clark & Williams

Thank heavens I purchased and watched the Clark & Williams dvds: "Traditional Molding Techniques: The Basics" and "Making Traditional Side Escapement Planes" prior to attending the WIA conference, otherwise I would have sounded like a complete nincompoop while conversing with Don McConnell and Larry Williams.

One of the questions I had intended to ask (before I watched the dvds) was "What are the future plans for your business; do you plan to offer complex moulding planes like ogees and astragals?"

Their booth displayed a page from "The City and Country Purchaser's Builder's Dictionary", a book originally published in 1726. Of particular interest is the explanation of Round and Hollow Planes: "curious artists have 16 sorts of these planes, of different sizes, from half a quarter of an inch to more than two inches, wherewith, by the assistance of the snipes-bill, and the rabbet-plane above mentioned, they make the various sorts of mouldings."

The first Clark & Williams dvd explains how to do just that*—create virtually any moulding with those few types of planes, all of which are offered on their website. Virtually any moulding....including ogees and astragals. Oh.

I was not at all familiar with the snipe's bill plane which Don told me is not only used to define and accentuate elements of mouldings, but to strike a gauge line and create a shallow ledge upon which a rabbet plane can ride. Rabbet planes are used to make fillets, but it's difficult to maintain a straight line without first creating a small channel in which to start the cut.

In the first dvd, Don shows how removing most of the waste with rabbet planes prevents wear and tear on the hollows and rounds that are used to finalize the profiles. Don prefers square rabbets, rather than skewed, which enable you to work in both directions when you happen upon rough grain. He also lays the rabbet plane on its side to clean up shoulders.

The second dvd shows in precise detail how to make hollows & rounds, including shaping, heat treating, and tempering the irons. You might be surprised how much work goes into making these planes, but to make your own is very rewarding. I made one a few years ago in a class and had intended to make more. This dvd provides the perfect refresher course.

Clark & Williams carefully replicates the elegant features found on the bodies of 18th c. planes but they use a modern finish—minwax antique oil—which protects the wood but allows moisture to flow through it freely, making it easier to acclimate to your shop's environment.

I asked Don why they made a video that shows how to make the products they sell. He explained that it took them a long time and a great deal of research to discover the intricacies of 18th c. planes and how to make them since there were no written accounts to follow, and that Clark & Williams wanted to document the process for future generations to use. Wow.

The planemakers have another soon-to-be-released dvd which covers the use of gauge lines to guide a snipe's bill plane as well as making more complex moulding, like those displayed along the top edge of their booth in the photos above. And you can bet I'll watch it before my next encounter with these two skillful, benevolent craftsmen.

*The dvd shows how to layout and shape a corinthian ogee, after which it becomes obvious how to make other types of mouldings, like astragals.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Japanese Saws

According to Jim Blauvelt and Harrelson Stanley, Japanese saws just make sense. Since they are used on the pull stroke, they tend to stay straight in the cut, as opposed to Western saws, which are used on the push stroke and can sometimes bind in the cut. Because of this, Western saw blades are thicker than Japanese blades in order to accomodate the resistance.

No vise is used when cutting with a Japanese saw. Huh?? What's a workbench without a vise? Less expensive, for one thing. Instead of employing a vise, you cut down toward the benchtop at a 60º angle. I was intrigued with the planing stop: a sliding dovetail (second to last photo).

Jim and Harrelson recommend using the most aggressive saw possible for a given task. Larger Japanese saws, typically used for carpentry, are as accurate as but cut faster than smaller ones, which are typically used for joinery.

There is huge variety in the quality of saws on the market, the best having been made within the last 10-15 years (I don't think they were including saws that were and are handmade by masters, but rather machine-manufactured saws in the 20th & 21st centuries). Saws in the $40-$50 range with disposable blades are a good choice.

Avoid impulse-hardened teeth, where only the surface of the teeth are hardened. These teeth appear bluish in color. Jim & Harrelson said "you can feel the steel stretching as you use [these saws]."

Here are other points (no pun intended. well, maybe):

1) Shorter teeth with steeper bevels work best for hardwood.

2) Ryoba (meaning "both") is a 2-sided saw. One side is crosscut and the other is rip.

3) Keep your saw oiled every day.

4) Dozuki is a backsaw and is available in both rip and crosscut.

5) Azehiki (5th photo) is a short- bladed saw used for starting a cut in the middle of a board and for sawing the sides of a groove.

The last photo is Jim's marking gauge. I couldn't resist.

I bought a dozuki about 14 years ago and loved it until I put a kink in the blade (about 2 months after I bought it). It worked very well, but you have to be gentle and sensitive with Japanese saws. Maybe play a Barry Manilow album while you're using them.

New Tools: Gadgets or Godsends?

The marketplace at the WIA conference was bustling with would-be tool buyers looking for the latest offerings from manufacturers. Lie-Nielsen devoted a corner of its booth to its new line of innovations: saw jointing jig, chamfer plane, tongue & groove plane, inlay tools, corner chisels, small hammer, fishtail chisels, burnisher, and a tool that cuts shallow mortises, Quaker locks, and the like after you have assembled your workpiece.

I was especially interested in the saw jointing jig, which hinges open so you can slide a file in place. The wings of the jig fold over top your saw blade so that the file rests on top of the teeth. You slide the jig along the teeth, thereby jointing them to the same height.

In one of the conference seminars—Modern Tools: Tolerances & Myths—which was conducted in panel format with Robin Lee (RL), John Economaki (JE), Konrad Sauer (KS), and Thomas Lie-Nielsen (L-N), a lively discussion ensued after an audience member asked if new designs were merely gadgetry. "Do we really need all these tools?" he asked. He sited one product, the Jointmaker Pro, invented by John Economaki, and inferred that it might be unnecessary and overpriced.

Here are the responses from the panel:

KS—Experiments are important. Some are valid, some are not, but inspiration keeps the industry moving forward.

RL—If you enjoy it, buy it.

JE—One thing you might not know about the Jointmaker is how many people it has helped: schools for the blind, people who have never been able to saw a straight line, people with one arm, and people with Parkinson's disease. You can't put a price on that.

RL—We offer a right angle magnetic guide for people with hand tremors.

JE—You don't need a lot of tools. Buy something because it speeds up woodworking. Gadgets might help you if you have time constraints. Above all, learn to make meaningful projects. Treat wood like it's $500 bf. That piece has to have a voice by itself when you're gone.

Another question from the audience: What are you going to change/what have you learned?

JE—We create new products based on my whims.

L-N—We're going to offer more instructional DVDs.

RL—We're slowly going to expand technologies with new lines of tools. We are just now offering our first handsaw. Many suppliers are disappearing. We have witnessed the closure of over 2,000 of our vendors/suppliers, which makes it difficult for us.


Gadgets or godsends? You decide. But I'll leave you with this insight from Adam Cherubini: "We need to support the modern tool makers. You can't grow a movement with antique tools."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

WIA Video

Here is a short 3.25 minute video with scenes from the WIA conference. Some of the interviews are hard to hear, but hey, it's my first video. Hope you like it!

In order of appearance:
Matt Vanderlist (press & show attendee)
Don Weber
Adam Cherubini
Mike Wenzloff (saw sharpening)
Jim Leamy (plane)
Phillip Edwards (plane)
John Economaki (jointmaster)
Adam Cherubini
Harrelson Stanley
Craig Stevens (press & show attendee)
Unknown (show attendee)
Blue Spruce (marking knives)
Don McConnell
Adam Cherubini (tool chest)
Jim Blauvelt & Harrelson Stanley
Adam Cheribini
Mark (I'm sorry, I didn't get your last name!) from Maryland (show attendee)
Michel Auriou (making a file)
Joe DesLauriers from North Carolina (show attendee)
Phillip Edwards
Don McConnell
Mike Siemsen from Minnesota (show attendee)
Adam Cherubini
Mike Hancock
Chris Schwarz
Frank Klausz
Adam Cherubini
Konrad Sauer
Roy Underhill
Frank Klausz, Roy Underhill, and Mike Dunbar

Still at the Starting Gate

While I'm still getting my photos, notes, and video together from the WIA conference, other bloggers are off and running with their footage. Be sure to check out what Matt Vanderlist, Mitch Roberson, Al Navas, Neil Lamens, Phillip Edwards, Craig Stevens, and of course, Chris Schwarz have to say about the event....and I promise to crack the whip before too long.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Greetings from Berea!

Day number one of the Woodworking in America conference has come to a close and it was filled with informative seminars, tools that would like to come home with me, and lots of wide-eyed woodworkers. 

One of the best parts for me was the opportunity to speak one-on-one with talented plane makers including 

I also ran into a few bloggers you may recognize: Matt Vanderlist, Mitch Roberson, and Al Navas.  

More to come! Right now, it's 8:00 and this woodworker is whupped and heading to bed....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Matthew Harding

Mark from Woodfired introduced me to the inspiring work of his friend, Matthew Harding, a highly regarded woodworker, sculptor, and carver from Australia.

While there are many talented individuals in the visual arts, Matthew is extraordinarily gifted in diversity, as expressed in his broad range of style.

He has command of various materials, including wood, bronze & steel, and stone; and a firm grasp on balance, composition, design, and originality.

Check out his website to see more of his artwork....and enjoy!