Monday, March 19, 2007
Hew to the line, let the chips fall where they may
This is the setup I like to use to hew my seats. My friend Curtis told me of a similar rig that he uses and I told my friend Rich about it. A few days later, Rich showed up with this elegant design. It is lightweight and allows me to quickly reposition the seat and carve away, without ever having to clamp or bend over! (Richs only mistake was loaning it to me!) As you can see, I only cut out the front of the seat for the carving operation, I've never understood why anyone would cut out the whole seat and then spend time finding ways to hold it. When I am ready to shape the back, I simply cut it out, put the seat in my vise and round it.
Next to the seat setup, you see my adze. It is a homemade number that is light weight and performes beautifully. A few years back when I was teaching a large class, I made about 5 of them and found this one to be my favorite. I got plans for making it from a FWW article many years ago. I made the blade by taking some O-1 tool steel and heating it in my fireplace, banging it into shape and then following the hardening process. Ray Larsen does a great job talking about this in his book "Tool Making for Woodworkers". I recommend it highly. Soon I'll go more indepth into how I make blades, it's not as tough as it sounds.
Dave Sawyer taught me to use an adze properly. It isn't just hacking away. As you can see in the photo, the idea is to make a series of chopping depth cuts, in rows. I start chopping along a centerline perpendicular to the fibers, then chop a row BEHIND the initial one. This allows the unsupported chips to break, making the fishscale pattern. After working my way to the edge of the "bowl", I turn the seat 90 degrees on my handy podium and adjust my swing to take clearing cuts. These cuts follow the weak plane that has been formed by the depth cuts. This leaves a level recessed area. Now that I have this recessed area, the top flat surface of the seat is safely isolated from my chopping and I really go to town. The next chopping sequence is similar but more aggressive as I make my way down to my depth marks. When finished, the surface looks as though it was carved with a gouge (really it was, an adze is simply a swinging gouge with no need of a mallet).
I recommend this process, which may seem slower than just hacking away, because once you gain control and establish a rhythm, it is lightning fast and the accuracy you'll gain means a finer result and less work with the next tools. I only adze for a few minutes, but each time, I aim to leave a better surface and cut closer to my line. Bookmaker Jim Croft, a man who makes books the way they where made in Charlemagnes time, told me that the phrase, "let the chips fall where they may", was origionally "Hew to the line, let the chips fall where they may".
So keep your broom handy and get to chopping!