Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The New Porch

Not too long ago, just moving out of my basement workshop was a fantasy. Well, now that I've been in my shop a few years, the finishing touch was obvious, the porch. Luckily for me, my brother Andrew and our friend Keith were looking for a summer getaway, and I had the perfect use for their carpentry skills.

We had some fun with the timber framing portion of the structure. Every time that I get to layout the cross supports, I get a charge knowing that if the math is right, everything fits just so. It's different than the "eyeball" work that I'm used to in chair work, and if the pieces weren't so heavy, I might just be lured into the trade.

After the tough work digging piers in Sullivan county soil ( 4 rocks for every dirt) and moving green timbers, the boys got their reward, christening the porch while shaving some spindles for a couple of balloon backs. Besides cooking them dinner every night, I had to throw something into the deal!

I've got some fun stuff in the works that I want to share, but my computer decided to die (I actually think that it heard Sue ordering the new one) and took my photos along with it. I'll get the photos reshot and start talking curved stretchers soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shavehorse Plans

In response to a recent question, here are the plans for my favorite shavehorse. It's a fun project to build and mine has given me years of service. I highly recommend lining the jaws with leather, which dramatically increases the holding power for the effort you put in.

To see the images full size and hopefully to print out, just click on them.
Below is the chair that Jeff Lefkowitz made with me recently. Jeff has spent time with Curtis and Brian Boggs since he was last here so we pulled out all the stops. The class ended up being as much about chair design as actually getting the thing together.

It's vital to a chair design that it be appealing from all angles.

Here's Jeff in his finished chair.

Obviously from my lack of posting, this summer is very busy for me. Below is a teaser of what you'll be seeing in the next post, and I can say without reserve, it's beautiful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Drilling on Target

I mentioned some techniques that we developed and used while at North Bennet Street, and this isn't one of them...but it should have been. Any one who has ever made a chair or even more so, taught chairmaking, can tell you that drilling the crest so that the mortises line up with the spindles can be a trying experience. I have a method for teaching the technique using a target on the floor. A student at North Bennet asked me "why don't we use the target technique in the actual drilling" and I rambled something about drill alignment and went about my way. When I returned home, I started thinking about resolving the drill end of things and came up with this.

This is nothing more than a small rod stuck in the back of a disk that I epoxied on the back of my drill. The critical factor here is that the rod and disk are perfectly aligned with the drill bit so that when you look down the rod, you are essentially sighting down the bit.

When looking down the rod, if you can see anything but black (meaning the side of the rod), you are not sighting correctly.
Below is the view of sighting down the rod correctly.

To align with the target (which would usually be set around a hole for the spindles into the seat), the body of the drill should be on center of the target and the back of the drill should read all black. Here is a misalignment. Yes, the drill is centered, but the rod isn't. (The notches in the target are to make room for the stiles on the outer holes)

Here, the you are looking directly down the rod, but the drill isn't on target.

Here is the view that shows the drill in correct alignment.

Perhaps the only tough part of using this technique is getting used to moving your head with the drill to keep the rod centered. I taught Jeff Lefkowitz the technique by asking him to split it into two steps. One, center the rod by moving your head, Two move the drill into the center of the target while moving your head as well to keep the rod centered. With this he was able to do a great job.

Jeff's chair had an added layer of complexity that also made the use of this method more essential. The curved spindles in his chair didn't aim directly at the holes in the seat, so his first step was to offset the target from the holes a certain amount and then drill away as usual. I'm pleased with the results and plan to keep working with the technique. I'll show Jeff's chair in the next posting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Cauldron

I returned recently from 2 weeks of teaching with Curtis at the North Bennet Street School, and now that I've had a few days to acclimate to the different atmospheric pressure, I'm ready to share some photos. The class went great, and as Curtis will agree, it's the hardest either of us works all year!
But there is something that happens in the group classes that rarely occurs in the more mellow and controlled environment of the one on one courses that we both host in our shops. Given the range of skills and scope of material to cover, new methods of teaching and chairmaking bubble to the surface. Techniques that work just fine for Curtis and I in our own shops can fall short when pulling along a large group and between us, we came up with some solutions that will continue on in both of our shops.

The means of achieving a chair can reflect the individuals preferences and prejudices. I enjoyed the interplay with Curtis of comparing our approaches and explaining and compromising on the techniques that best suited the class and the chair. I think that watching the conversation between us also gave the students a chance to see inside the process, not just of chairmaking, but decision making, and the idea that in the end, it's up to them to choose the means that best suit their temperament and goals.

Here is Peter Mich bending his arm bow (remember Peter from my shop last year?).
I brought along the white oak and it performed admirably (not a single break).

Unlike most classes, we decided to go to the lathe room and let the students turn their legs. To our surprise, it went smoothly and wrapped in about a day and a half, with a little help on the arm posts and stretchers. My mother can't say when that pencil appeared behind my ear, but I suspect it was around my late teens.

Here are Seth and Chris, the two students who followed Curtis down the rabbit hole and made their chairs almost entirely with the bit and brace. Curtis started chairmaking with very little, and the bit and brace served him exclusively for many years, I on the other hand had a cordless drill and some old bits that I could grind. We each made it work.

Here's Curtis inspecting the center of an armbow.

I was surprised that such a large steambox could hold enough heat to steam all ten arms at once.
The two wallpaper steamers, like the one I use now, really cranked it out.

Below, I'm showing the technique for drilling the blind holes in the arm. No one blew out the top of their arms while drilling it (whew!) although on one students arm, you could see light when you looked into the mortise!

Curtis and I took a trip up to Essex for some lobster and tool scrounging. Alas, we are both in the unenviable position of not needing any tools, that's right, it does happen.

The room we were in was small, but lent itself to easy communication and the whole class focussed beautifully in it. I've taught at shops that were so big that they had the intimacy of an airport terminal!

Here is Rob practicing drilling by eye. The tape on the floor represents the spindle deck. I've found that a few practice holes drilled, without the pressure of ploughing into an actual arm, can smooth the learning curve.

Here are father and son, Rob and Drew, with their finished chairs.

Here is Curtis talking to Anita. I like this photo, I think it captures Curtis' great rapport with the students.

Here is Jan sawing away on her armpost. I learned a great deal working with her. She is added to the list of school teachers that I am privileged to have worked with.

Thanks to Herb Harris for the extra photos.

Curtis and I are teaching again at The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine in August, but I believe the class is full. However, there are openings for our class in September at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta.

On the short notice side, I'll be demonstrating turning techniques Wednesday July 1 at the Watergap Woodturners meeting at Peters Valley Craft School woodshop.