Woodworking

FORP III Day 1 – Variety

I  thought I had been told to arrive at 9 the first morning, so I did, only to find out that the first students arrived before 7AM to stake out their work stations and set up, so the bee hive was buzzing long before I got there.

As I came to learn throughout the week the students body was an amazing mix of folks; a chemical engineering professor, a video production entrepreneur, a lawyer/lobbyist, three professional woodworkers/furniture makers, a cybersecurity geek, a geophysicist, a playwright, a CPA, a custom floor maker and his furniture design student son, a fireman, a mechanic, an energy engineer, an electrician, a high-end custom home builder, a rancher, two surgeons, a military helicopter pilot, and maybe another couple of folks I cannot remember at the moment.  There was no shortage of interesting things to talk about during meals and breaks.

Frankly put, the gallery of student set-ups was a dizzying cornucopia of horses and tool inventories, with the former ranging from old-school carpenter’s horses to sooper high tech devices the likes of which I had never seen.

Take a look.

As for tool inventories and their containers they ranged from several ATCs and Dutch cabinets to plastic tubs to simple canvas bags.  I’ll take a look at them in another post.

As I arrived the last of the bench tops were being fed through the Stratoplaner, the prehistoric minivan-sized machine that planed all four surface of the 300-pound slabs simultaneously.  One by one these took their places in the appropriate work stations.

In short order the preparations for the 80 legs commenced.

A quick tutorial on laying out the double tenons on the tops of the legs (and keeping track of them!) was followed by the soundlessness of eighty sets of tenons being laid out.

While that was underway Will Myers and Father John Abraham prepped the stretcher stock, and once again Jeff Miller and I tag-teamed to make jigs for cutting the tenon shoulders.  Which we did.  A lot.

As the day closed the air was filled with the sounds of wailing away on the valleys between the double tenons and the scriiitch of planing the edges of the tops square and true so the double mortise layout could be executed.

And that was Day 1.

Resawing For Rick

Recently my friend Neal came to the barn to work on building a few shelving units, and his pastor Rick came by for a visit while we were working.  Rick brought two maple boards he needed resawn for the new hammer dulcimer he is making and I volunteered to do it for him.  Using my Tom Fidgen inspired kerfing plane and the Bad Axe frame saw I got to work.

It really was a pleasant experience and a very good workout!

After the resawing I touched up the kerfed surfaces with my Dutch-style scrub plane and returned them.

First Four Finished (Plow Plane Mortise Chisels, That Is)

With the big push to get the Gragg chairs assembled I was inspired to finish the first of the plow plane iron mortise chisels.  I got the four smallest ones to the finish line, or at least finished enough to actually use them on the delicate mortises of the chair.

The back splat elements are mortised into the crest rail with 3/16″ tenons.

The front bowed rung is inserted into the front legs with a pair of 1/8″ mortises.  These need to be accomplished fairly late in the assembly timetable so there is limited space to work.  These new petite chisels (roughly 6-7″) work like a charm.

One of the important things I learned was that the striking end of the chisel is comprised of two laminae of the wood cheeks and the fairly soft steel(?)from the plow plane iron that runs the full length of the tool.  I resolved this for the moment by using a brass mallet for pounding on them rather than a steel one.  I will add rivets near both the top and bottom of the handle to make them more robust, and may even add a metal striking cap at the top of the handle.

But they do indeed work exactly as I had hope they would

Home Stretch

This has been The Summer of Gragg, and I am on the home stretch for the two chairs I am building.  One of the big hitches to the project is that I was committed to getting it all on video, and sometimes getting my calendar to mesh with the videographer’s calendar was a big challenge.  Fortunately (?) I made sure to have the two chairs at different points of the process, making sure the have one of them at the concluding point of the previous video session and the other somewhat ahead.  So, when our calendars did coincide we could make hay.

Recently the first one made it to the finish line construction-wise.  I was pleased.  I can now concentrate on trimming and sculpting each of the individual elements to make the chair much more sinuous.  This process must be done once the chair is fully assembled so the lines, edges, and proportions can be tuned as a whole.

I’m envision a completion date of early to mid-  October.

I’m guessing that we will have 20+ hours of good video when all is said and done, and for simple logistics it will have to be diced into roughly hour-long segments to get it upload-able.

Packrattery Saves The Day (Again)

My reticence (inability) to discard wood even when others might see it as decrepit has once again come back to reward me.

The hefty vertical timber adjacent to the chimney had degraded to the point where it needed addressing and most likely replacement.  Tim the restoration contractor really wanted to use a large hunk of vintage chestnut for the replacement, and low and behold I had exactly the piece he needed.

I had salvaged the chestnut posts from the lean-to of the lower log barn on the homestead when my brother and I replaced the aged and failing wasll structure with a new, built-in-place laminated post and beam wall two summers ago.  The posts from the degraded wall were approximately ten inches in diameter and seven or eight feet in length.  They weighed a ton.

I transported one of them up to the barn and started whacking on it with my 10-inch circular saw followed by a Japanese timber saw.  In about an hour I had a piece useable to the restoration crew.

Tim said it was perfect, and after some additional fitting the new piece was inserted into the void left by the rotted old one.

An Excellent Patch

During the process of removing the ancient chinking and other fills on the log cabin, a disturbing find was a fist-sized hole on the north side wall.  The hole was not necessarily a surprise as the north side was the most weather beaten with considerable surface lichens and some localized fungal rot, including some pretty substantial damage to some of the structure around the chimney (more about that next time).  But the hole was concerning since it went all the way through the log!

After consulting with Tim, the owner of the log cabin restoration company, I decided to have him attempt the localized repair rather than cut out the whole log section or fill it with an epoxy-based composite.  Tim thought he had just the right piece of weathered chestnut to make the fill, and the results confirmed his confidence in his skills and my confidence in him.

He had to excavate several inches on either side of the hole to get back to sound wood, and seeing the size of the pocket was a bit unnerving.  But, the final results were indeed impressive.

A couple months of weathering and the fill will be invisible.  Like I said, impressive.

Carving Lesson

Recently I was called by a nearby acquaintance asking me for a lesson on carving egg-and-dart molding.  Sam is a talented restoration carpenter who is a whiz at saving houses old and new, but this project required him to flex a bit and branch out into carving some moldings needed for a fireplace mantle.  I said sure and we scheduled a couple of times for him to work in the studio.

Most egg-and-dart molding involves a very limited number of carving gouges, and the sample he needed to match fit that description.  Fortunately for him I had exactly the sweep and size he needed.  I sat down and showed him the steps of the procedure then turned the sample piece over to him to, well, practice.  I used to carve quite a bit, and there was a period 45 years ago I though about becoming a carver.  Not becoming someone who could carve, but someone who was a carver.  Big difference.  But the lure of the finishing room soon won out, and ever since I’ve only really undertaken carving to replicate missing pieces from my projects.

After a couple of sessions in the Barn, Sam was ready to execute the moldings for real.  The initial struggles he had with the fairly coarse-grained workpiece was alleviated the second time around, and the results were gratifying.

With him, I expected no less.

Building Gragg’s “Elastic Chair” — Harvesting Wood 4

After struggling with my previous attempt to harvest oak from my own mountain, disappointed by the fact that even those large trees, or at least sections of their trunks, yielded so little usable material, I had for the moment hope for two long, straight sections that I had not yet processed.  The tree from whence these bolts came had grown tall and straight in a very dense cluster of trees.  Those facts led me to my optimism.  So recently I headed up the hill with my implements of destruction in-hand.

Cutting up the long straight trunk produced the first two segments to be split.

I studied the first of them to decide where to place the first wedge.  I drove it in and immediately my heart sank when the split wandered off toward California.

With a deep breath and some impolite utterings under my breath I tried to salvage the situation by putting the second wedge in a place to continue or re-establish the split line I wanted in the first place.

It worked.

 

Carefully working down that line with more wedges, a nice split was established.

My only concern at this point was the interlocking that emerged but since it was restricted almost completely to only the pith it was no cause for hysteria.    A few whacks with the roofer’s hatchet, my “go to” tool for this task, and the problem was resolved as I hoped.  It was only a little loss to a region of the trunk I didn’t want in the first place.

Soon enough I had two halves of a trunk, then four quarters, and in the end, eight wedges.

I was pleased with the minimal amount of overall interlocking and wind.

My friends, there be some chairs.

Building Gragg’s “Elastic” Chairs — Harvesting the Wood 3

In concert with both ongoing firewood harvesting and shooting a video Building A Gragg Chair I replicated some of the work undertaken at my neighbor Bob’s house five years earlier, this time with oaks felled up the mountain from the barn.  There were three large trunks that had nice lower sections and and one smaller but straighter one about fifty yards away, set-aside for the harvesting efforts.  Interestingly the larger trees, grown in a dense forest setting, were quite problematic with lots of wind and interlocked grain.  My yield from them was about a quarter of what I got from Bob’s “urban” trees.  I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

The largest of these trunks was also the largest disappointment.  While seemingly sound and straight, the first split caused me to go, “Hmmm.”

As the splitting proceeded the disaster was readily apparent as the entire trunk segmented into an interlocked mass of uselessness, and ate all of my wedges and guts to just get torn apart.  The pieces were cut into short bolts for the firewood splitter.

The two smaller of these three trunk sections were better, but still not great.  The wood was straighter and more sound, but with more interlocked grain than I expected.

The smaller, straighter trunk was, I hoped, a somewhat different story.  It had grown in very tight setting, much, much more crowded than the larger trees and the grain showed it.  I was hoping it was more promising than the first trunks, which mostly wound up as firewood.  More about that later.

Building Gragg’s “Elastic” Chairs — Harvesting the Wood 2

With the trunks on the ground, sectioned and ready for me, I came after supper and lit into them.  They were heavy enough that even with logging tools they were impossible to handle so I first split them along a horizontal plane, then halved the top half of that, then halved that again.

With some help from the appropriate tools I was able to extract the long wedges, which were processed further with splitting in half repeatedly.

Eventually I wound up using a froe for some riving on some of the pieces, and yielded a great many pieces.  Much to my astonishment I discovered zero nails, bolts, or fencing.  Quite a surprise for an old tree in a domestic setting.

In the end I wound up with four truckloads of splits, and piled them cross-wise a layer at a time, up off the ground.  The final pile was six feet by six feet by four feet high.  After a year in the open I sorted them and moved the best of them inside to the first floor of the barn where they remain until I need them.  The rest were also useful, they kept me warm.