Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Modest Proposal (or two)

One difficulty that just about any budding chairmaker encounters is reaming. Aside from all the hubbub about which angle and what type of cutter to use, there is the plain old physical problem of reaming.  I recommend the reamers innovated by Jennie Alexander and produced by Elia Bizzarri, because they are easily made, maintained and alterable to whatever angle you please. They also cut with a slow scraping motion on both sides of the cutter, which keeps the user from going too far too fast. The one drawback that I've found is that it can be tough to learn to steer it in a desired direction while rotating the two handles.


I know that another method is to chuck a reamer, such as the one from Emhof into a brace and go at it. I've heard folks complain about the difficulty controlling the speed with which this can lead one astray. A while back, I started horsing around with an idea (surprising right?!) that might solve both issues. Why not chuck the slower reamer in a brace so that the circular motion of turning the reamer is easier?
Well, I did and it works great. I spoke with Elia earlier about the idea, and while he's not rushing to shift production just yet, perhaps a little more r and d will get the ball rolling.

To alter my reamer, I simply drilled a hole in the end on the lathe (to insure perfect axis alignment) and then epoxied a stem from an old auger into the hole. First though, I heated the end of the auger cherry hot to anneal it so that I could drill in a pin to resist the substantial torque of reaming. If anyone tries this, I'd love to hear about the results. I'll continue to put it in students hands to judge the potential value of the idea.

Here is a ladle that I recently completed in applewood. I've appreciated the kind response to my spoon postings and have been considering a new endeavor. I make spoons because I enjoy it, and I have a day job, so selling them has not really appealed to me.  But then I got to thinking (again?!) why not sell them and donate the profits to an organization that fights hunger? Spoons, hunger, it just seems right.

So here's how I'd like to work it. As I produce a spoon that I deem worthy, I'll post it on the blog with a set price, this one is $80. It is 17" long with a 3" by 4" bowl, perfect for soups and stews.
If anyone is interested in buying it, please email me  at peter@petergalbertchairmaker.com. If I get more than one interested party, I'll put the names in a hat and pick the buyer at random. I'll give 3 days to get your name on the list before contacting the buyer, then just mail me a check (including $8 for shipping) and I'll send your spoon.

I've denied all inquiries about advertising on this blog in an effort to keep it about my passion and sharing and I hope that you can understand my interest in using the blog this way.

Not all the spoons that I make will be in this price range, I've been making a lot of smaller ones suitable for cooking that will go in the $30 to $60 range. I just thought that I'd kick off the project with a real looker!

This piece of wood came from the base of an apple tree that I cut back in my woods and I had high hopes for it while it was still in the tree. Apple can be tricky, little knots or checks can squelch the best ideas, but this one made it all the way. I've finished the spoon with repeated applications of raw tung oil. The only care necessary is an occasional wiping with walnut or raw tung oil and avoiding harsh detergents or  long soakings.

I have been investigating various organizations and would welcome suggestions as to an appropriate  place for the funds.
Thanks for considering my proposal, hopefully we can all get something from it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Brief Reprieve (from holiday joy)

I don't know about you, but after 3 days of eating and merriment, this is how I felt.

It was actually a great relief to get back outside and get my bones moving, and with an approaching storm, there was no shortage of chores. First, my brother Andrew wanted to split out some hickory for some more firewood carriers. By the way, the full instructions on these is in the Fine Woodworking compilation book "Bending Wood" which I recommend for a number of good articles.


I haven't forgotten about my promise to make a video about froe usage and splitting, but frankly, it was cold out there!

Here he is getting reacquainted with the froe. I split out a bunch of white oak for a crested rocker that a student will be building in February as well as some for a clients birdcage armchair. I thought that it would be better to get it all done rather than digging it out of 10 inches of snow tomorrow.


I've started setting up my blacksmith shop under the shed next to the shop. I have a lot of work to do to get it up and running, but just seeing all the equipment in one place is inspiring. I fed my brother a huge meal before asking him to help me move the anvil bolted to the stump 75 yards, ah family...

Here are a couple of my xmas presents, blades from Pinewood Forge! Del Stubbs makes amazing tools, beautifully shaped and tempered to hold a razor edge. I honestly don't think that I'd be as motivated to carve spoons if it wasn't for his blades. I like to put on my own handles, which saves $12 and gives me lots of options. My handles tend to be ugly but they feel great in the hand. The oblong holes can be a little tricky, but epoxy covers a lot of sins. If any one shows interest, I'll show my technique.


And Tee in Atlanta would never forgive me for neglecting the animal photos. Here is Maggie with her chubby kids. They have a toasty barn to retreat to when they so desire.

These handsome fellows are thriving, but like the rest of us at the holidays, they are looking a bit swollen!

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Like so many others, I've settled in to share some time with my loved ones. Here is my little Mother sitting in a chair that I recently finished for some tall folks. I couldn't resist the contrast of a 4' 10" lady in a chair made for 6 footers. I put the front stretcher lower than usual to make the chair accessible to the vertically challenged!

I wish you all the best in the new year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's in there Somewhere

 Spoons and chairs have much in common and some huge differences. One similarity that I've been noticing both while carving and chairmaking, is that I am constantly moving to get new views of the object. Both are absolutely 3 dimensional and must succeed from all angles. I enjoy the challenge.

On the other hand, the choice of trees for each couldn't be more different. For chairs, I want the most straight, boring tree possible, with no branches or curves in sight. But for spoons, I look for the wildest and waviest. I used to go to the woods looking for natural crooks in the trees to get the spoon crook, often leaving a bit disappointed at the scarcity of "perfect" crooks. But then I started horsing around with the branches and trunk union and now I see spoons everywhere!

Here is how the spoons look while still in the tree.  The natural curve of the fibers on the underside of the branch works great. The only issue is making sure that you don't include the pit from the trunk or branch in the final spoon.

 I like to start by splitting the trunk portion down the pith and then I generally find it easiest to saw down the branch and along the bottom of the bowl.

Of course, I have to say that using a bandsaw on odd shaped stock like this is ill advised. But it sure makes quick work of it. I haven't had good luck splitting down the branch portion. It just seems to crack up the wood and the tough union with the trunk isn't easy.

Here is the part of the trunk where I split along the pith. There is a bit of hatchet work to do.

Here I've used the hatchet to clean it up a bit, and I've drawn on the growth rings so that you can see how much I need to remove if I want the fibers to be continuous.  If you want a deeper spoon, you can just clean out the pith and use what's left.

Being a chairmaker, I decided to reach for my drawknife to follow the fibers out to the end.

Here is the result, you can start to see the spoon.

And since I've already broken the rules on safe bandsaw use, I finished off the roughing with some power.

It's a big blank that should make a good server.

Once I finish off roughing out the shape, I wrap the spoon in a cotton clothe for a few days to slow the drying process and prevent checking. A paper bag also works well.

I've been finishing up some chairs in the shop (yes, I still make chairs) and will post some images soon!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Real Tree Wood

I know that I've said it before, but here goes...If you want to learn about working wood, carve spoons. I was lucky enough to have Andy Jack helping me out recently after returning from a spoon carving class with Jogge Sunquist and he brought back some great tips about the tools, materials, geometry, and body technique. It's spurred me on to a flurry of production and now the hardest part of every meal is figuring out which utensil to use!

Early in my spoon carving, I used applewood almost exclusively. It's tough as nails and lovely to boot. When it's green, it carves relatively easy, so it's best to do as much as you can before it dries to stone.
The little paddle above can be made from relatively straight stock, and while it seems diminutive, I reach for it all the time when cooking. It does what every good tool should, it feels like a sensitive extension of my hand.

Here is another "paddle" that also has enough of a bowl to be a good serving spoon. The curved front also makes it very handy when cooking in a pan with curved sides. This one is maple and came not from a crook in the tree, but from a branch to trunk union. I've been using branching parts this way and having a lot of fun learning to follow the grain. If you do it right, the neck of the spoon is straight grained and strong and the bowl follows the grain as well so there is no short grain at the lead edge. You can't get much stronger, which lets me take away all that unnecessary wood.

Here you can see the "curly" area that is in every branch spoon where the wood takes the heavy turn. It's always fun to find.


Every time that I see a large limb in a tree that fell or that I cut, I can't help but think LADLE!! It's always an endeavor. This one out of maple took me nearly 5 hours to rough out. I know this because I started on it one night at 5:30 and the next time that I noticed my surroundings (yes, I know, my poor neglected wife) it was 10:30 and the rest of the house was dark!


I've taken to scraping and sanding the bowls lately, both to highlight the grain and sculptural quality, but it also makes cleaning easier.

 One of the great revelations that Andy returned with, was how much easier birch spoons are to carve. But the softness of the wood also calls for bolder decisions as each cut can be that much more direct and clear. Here are a couple that I roughed out the other night. These took just a few minutes a piece after I roughed them with an ax.

And finally, here is an eating spoon from a crook. I've been working on the shape of these to get the proper feel in the hand as well as comfortably delivering food to the mouth. It's fun because when I'm done, there is surprisingly little wood left.

There are some great videos on Youtube.com if you search spoon carving. I think my favorite is the Romanian Carver, his motions are so effective and concise. And this fellow is great with all sorts of old technology and way more efficient with his hatchet than me. If these guys don't make you trek out into the woods, nothing will.

This photo reminds me of Sue's reaction to seeing me in a magazine photo, she said "They photoshopped your hands, they're never that clean!" I could think that it's retaliation for my obsessive carving during "our time", but I'm afraid it's simply the truth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New Forms

Two things that I've found to be essential to surviving the long cold winter nights here in New York are Dave Sawyer's firewood carriers (shown below with theirs proud owner David) and spoon carving. The carriers save my back and the spoons save my mind.

I'll be going into the spoon carving a bit more in the following post, but for now, I wanted to share some new techniques that I've been using to get better bends in my bent turnings.
This week, Chris Durbin returned from Ohio to make one of my birdcage armchairs. I've worked out a lot of techniques for working with all of the curved parts, but I kept having trouble with the slight "sideways" curve that sometimes occurred in the forms.

Here is the  bend in a new form that I made. If you look below, you'll see that I've made up the form from two bevelled pieces of plywood that cause the bend to center itself and eliminate any "sideways" curve. Having a straight axis really eliminates a lot of the difficulty of reaming these parts accurately into the seat.

The other benefit of the form is that the pressure of the form on the round workpiece is spread over a larger surface (two points of contact instead of one) so I got less denting of the steamed part as well. I use a shaped block and some dense felt as clamp pads to eliminate damage on the other side.

I am looking into dense felt suppliers to get material to line the form as well, why not?!
Below is Chris carving his duckbills, I love telling students that we'll be using the drawknife for most of this work, the terror is palpable!

And here he is with his finished piece. It came out great.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fountain of Youth

It's been a while since I returned from Atlanta, and I've been hunkering down for winter, stacking firewood, getting logs and basically trying to stay awake past 8pm! Above is a shot from the class at Highland. It was a lot of fun, we had students from the south, midwest and even all the way from Israel.

Here is one of the students kids taking the sample chair for a test spin!

The other day a friend of mine, who also happens to by my physician (his brother is my vet, small town!), came by to make a couple of hickory firewood carriers. He's been suffering carting wood inside in his arms and we've both been trying to clear a day in our schedules to get him properly set.

His work has been stressing him out lately, he's basically handling the work of two doctors everyday and he'll be on call for the next two months without a break. This man needed to beat on a log.

He took to the sledge hammer with such vigor that I just stepped back and decided to let the two of them work it out. During the days discussions, he told me that the worst part of his day is that he has to multitask constantly. When he said this, it dawned on me that when folks come to my shop to make a chair, they get to do just one thing at a time. It's a sad statement that most of us literally have to run away from home and be doled out tasks one at a time to stop this scattered way of being

As the day progressed, I was surprised to look over at him and see that his face, that had been a bit worn looking, seemed fuller and brighter. I swear I could see the teenager inside coming to the surface.
Below is one of the carriers in it's form. It's a way more complex form than is necessary, but it makes a lovely, uniform bend.

I've been noticing a lot of this kind of stress, unnamed and omnipresent in my friends lately, and I've decided that my means of fixing the world is going to start by doing one thing at time, or at least remembering that if I'm stressed, at least I know one of the culprits!

So kick back, focus on eating some turkey and talking to your family (remember, no politics) and pet your goats,

Happy Thanksgiving!