Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Freeloaders

Did you ever get the feeling you were disturbing someone?

Well it finally happened. After months of feeding and caring for my little flock (5), I got eggs! (the green egg is silly putty to fool the ladies) I had started referring to them as "the freeloaders" after a friend told me that it was probably to far into winter for them to start laying (they need 14 hours of daylight). But, with a heat lamp on a timer and a little gentle encouragement (I've been teasing them for being lazy) they have risen to the occasion. The eggs are small (which is normal with early production) but the yolks are a rich yellow, almost like butterscotch. Because they run around all day, even in the snow, eating what they like, it looks like they know best.

It's obvious to me that they were excited to contribute to the Thanksgiving feast (or that they believed my threats of being the main attraction on the table).

I will be posting more on the shop activities soon. I am as busy as ever, but my writing time has been spread between a magazine article and my book with Curtis. I am looking forward to the long weekend (and sneaking off to the shop while everyone else is turkey napping!)

I wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stools and Surfaces

Lately, I have been making parts for stools while teaching or as a break from more complex pieces. The stools offer a wonderful opportunity to work out some ideas about process, surface and aesthetics without a massive investment of time. Below is a stool with curved legs made of white oak and a pine seat. The stretchers were split and shaved, dried and then chucked in the lathe to turn the tenons before shaving to a final shape. I rough turned the legs, let them air dry, steamed the lower portion and bent them. The next day I took them out of the forms and because they were previously air dried, they held the shape shown. I finished them with spokeshaves.

This stool is a first attempt at the project that I will be teaching at Arrowmont next March. My goal was to make an elegant yet simple piece that the class could complete in 5 days and still have the time to cover all the aspects of tool use and wood technology that goes into the piece. All of the surfaces, except the top of the seat, are defined by the tool marks that made them. Not only does this suit the hand tool focus of the class, but it also suits the final look of the piece and the process. I could turn a perfectly smooth leg, but the final result under the paint would be lifeless, and the probability of damaging it during bending would leave me sanding (not my favorite).

Below is a piece with a very different focus. This "perch" has a seat with a forward tilt. Normally, I use one at my computer where it is very comfortable for the working posture (mine is at the showroom and I am struggling to stay upright on a "normal" stool). This piece is finished without paint, which calls for a very different set of processes and results.

Normally, I find curly maple best suited for violins and the such. I find it a bit flashy for large pieces of furniture. But this little perch is small enough that a little flair is easily absorbed. In this case, I turned and oiled the legs on the lathe. My goal was to create a perfect surface with no tool marks visible to conflict with the glowing image of the wavy grain. I used a skew to achieve this level of finish because any sanding would dull the natural glow of the figure.

You'll also notice that the seat is carved without the sharp pommel that the painted stool has. When the grain of the seat is showing, I find that sharp points can make for distractingly active grain patterns. Of course this is a personal preference, but I generally find that I like to simplify seat designs when they are left unpainted.

Below is the footrest and leg of the painted stool. The toolmarks are easily visible. My goal, as with a lot of my painted curvy pieces, is to make it look like the chair grew that way. I find that the long facets, coupled with the color, look very natural.

Here is a close up of the curly maple leg on the perch. Its fun to touch it and discover it's smooth, even though the surface looks wavy.

As much as the final look of the piece drives these decisions, I find myself trying to work out solutions that leave me a clear (and fun) path to completing the piece. Whenever I find myself mired in sandpaper while building a chair, I know that it's time to take a step back, build a stool and find a different way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Apple Wood

I find no better distraction from the stresses of chairmaking (namely the complex joints on the rocker arms that I am making) than heading out to the woods with my chainsaw to enlist some apple wood for spoon carving. I am fortunate to have many apple trees that are years overgrown and respond to a good cutting with more apples next year. Apple wood has a gorgeous color and texture. It glistens when sliced with a sharp blade. I also wanted to make some spoons for my new showroom.

Apple trees undulate and squirm in a way that makes sense only to them. It can be perfect for spoons, with the bends built right in, but can also be a tangle of disappointing knots and sapwood. Below are some of the ladle blanks that I harvested recently. I've roughed them out on the bandsaw (a dangerous technique) and will hollow out the bowls before drying them. Once dry, I'll finish them off with spokeshaves and scrape and sand the bowls. The carving gouge is shown for a sense of scale.

Here is a recent spoon finished with walnut oil. It hangs nicely on any nail or lip. I carved the sides with an undercut. One of the joys of spoon carving is the freedom to follow each one to a unique solution, in harmony with the grain direction and the special offering of the tree.

As usual, these spoons will go to clients or for gifts, and my kitchen will be left with my ragged and wacky first spoons (that I could never repeat, and therefore cherish the most).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Engagements

I'm happy to say that I'll be helping Curtis Buchanan teach chairmaking next year on three occasions. I always look forward to working with Curtis, I think that his reputation speaks for itself. We will be teaching the Continuous Arm Rocker at North Bennet Street and at Highland Hardware. This rocker is one of my favorites, if you come to my house in the evening, you'll generally find me parked in mine.
The class at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship will be making a fan back. This class has the added benefit of noted turner Nick Cook from Atlanta teaching the turning portion of the class. Curtis will be off during this portion but I'll be there.
And I will also be teaching a class, with the benefit of Brent Skidmore as a visiting artist, and Elia Bizzarri assisting at the Arrowmont School of Crafts. I will be posting the progress of the piece that I've designed for this 5 day course.

One thing that excites me about these classes, is that Curtis and I will have a chance to bounce ideas off each other and the students to refine the process in large classes. We are always looking for new and better ways to teach chairmaking to greater depths and results.

With these engagements, my year is pretty packed and I'd encourage anyone interested in working with me at my shop to reserve a spot early, as I won't be able to accomodate as many students as in years past.

I've posted the dates of the classes on the sidebar of the blog for easy reference, hope to see you there!

Below is a photo of a drawknife that I came across on my recent trip to Virginia for a friends wedding. I was walking through a junk shop when this beauty jumped out at me. Folks often inquire what to look for in a knife, so here goes.

It has just about everything that I look for in a drawknife. The blade is stamped Warranted Cast Steel, which is supposedly the best of its kind in the era that it was produced, and experience has bore it out in my shop. It does seem to take and hold a fantastic edge.

Also, the handles, which are unique in their ornate turning are solid as can be. I have to admit being a bit smitten by their shape, boy did they care back then!
The tool was relatively rust free and clean but for a couple of chips in the edge. The only fault that I find in the tool is the slight curve of the blade, both along the edge and the back. This means that I can't create and measure flats as simply as I might with a straight blade, but I may find special uses where these curves come in handy (like cutting the relief in the crest of my new rocker) Anyway it was not one to pass up, especially because it was only $20.

I liked using it so much that I left the facets that it made on the bottom of a recent stool, rather than turning to the spokeshave to finish up. People often question why I need so many drawknives (I have about 12) and I use the large classes that I teach as a good excuse, but I'm sure that they see through me pretty easily!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free Range

I've learned a couple of things about chickens lately. One is that they are very amusing, running around like aliens on the landscape, the other is that free range is just another term for having chicken poop everwhere! I was happy to find my dogs relatively disinterested in birds running around (most chicken keeping tales end with a murderous canine) but not so pleased to see my porch covered in landmines. It looks like the porch screening project has moved to the top of the list!

Here is Steve Wagner planing down a seat for his continuous arm. Steve was given the class as a retirement gift and I think that he is a bit surprised by how much work goes into building a chair, so much for the easy life.

One of the questions that just won't die concerns how long a log can be kept green and usable. One of the reasons that I like using white oak is the longevity of the log. Unlike maple, ash and hickory, white oak can be kept for a long time without succumbing to rot. I usually try to keep the log a whole as possible and in a shady spot or under a tarp. When I have small splits that aren't going to be used for a while, I sink them in my pond. I've often wondered what the limits of this method are. I know that folks are digging ancient trees out of bogs and lakes all over the place, but I was concerned about the potential change in properties in the wood from extended submersion.

This piece has helped put my mind to ease. It was in my pond for about a year, long enough to get a nasty coating of green goo on the outside. But after I cut it open, I was happy to find beautifully intact heartwood. It worked and bent just beautifully. While I don't expect this to put an end to the storage questions, it is an encouraging hint to the possibilities.