Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sharing the Joy at the Perth Wood Show 2014.

The Perth Wood Show is always a big weekend, 3 hectic days of it - the culmination of several days of preparation before the event and still more afterwards. This was the third year that I have been there doing woodwork with mobs of kids. Why are there so many kids at the Wood Show? -  it is because the WA Craft Fair is now combined with it in one whoppa event.
Here's the promo:

Friday 01 August - Sunday 03 August

WA Craft Show & WA Wood Show

Two great Western Australian events for the price of one!
Come along to the WA Craft Show and WA Wood Show this August to discover what is new, fashionable and trending in each industry.

The WA Craft Show will include craft excellence and expertise in scrapbooking, patchwork, quilting, cardmaking, paper crafts, machine embroidery and much more.

The WA Wood Show features tools, machinery, exciting new products, displays, demonstrations, leading suppliers and tools for all the trades expo.

Venue: Claremont Showground, Exhibition Centre



My space all set up early Friday morning and ready for the crowds.

Friday and the "Hand Tool Olympics" Experiment.
On the Friday of the Show each year, busloads of Design and Technology students from the high schools normally come in to visit the Show. Each year I have watched them get bored and then the young males start to strut around like young roosters, getting up to mischief at times. Last year, after one of these kids nailed my demo Kitchen Spatula to the bench, I resolved to offer something different. I am a youthworker by trade as well as a woodworker, so I already had a few ideas brewing. The plan would be to hook into all that testosterone and competetive spirit, and channel it into some positive woodworking activity.

After the Wood Show in 2013, I had gone to the "Woodworking in America" Conference in the USA (WIA). There I saw the "Hand Tool Olympics" in action, run by the Mike Siemsen's School of Woodworking. I was impressed, and saw in action the very ideas I had been contemplating for our Wood Show Friday.
The Hand Tool Olympics at WIA2013, USA.
The WIA Hand Tool Olympics in the USA involved 8 skill challenges:
  • Cross-cut a board with a hand saw.
  • Rip along a board with a ripping hand saw.
  • Shoot that ripped edge straight and square, using a plane.
  • Make a tenon to fit an pre-existing mortice.
  • Hand cut a dovetail joint.
  • Bore a perpendicular hole with an auger and a shell bit.
Participants were scored by time and accuracy. A stopwatch gave the time score, and playing cards inserted into gaps give the accuracy score. The lower the total score, the better. The scores were recorded as people took part over the weekend. A good system. With credit to Mike's Team, they also used this as a coaching opportunity for any participants who were not experienced in any of the skill challenges. The tools used for the challenges - very nice quality ones, too - were the prizes for the people who scored the lowest (best) score over the weekend in each skill challenge. There was another big prize for the overall winner. After watching and participating in the event at WIA2013, I sent an email immediately to Mareene, the Perth Wood Show organiser. Something like this would be worth trying with the student at The 2014 Perth Wood Show, and I hoped to give it a bash.
A tenon under construction at WIA 2013. The clock is ticking!
I'm told John Lennon allegedly said: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans". Well, as the 2014 Perth Wood Show drew closer,  life was getting in the way of my intention to run a form of Hand Tool Olympics at the show. However, in the week leading up to the Show I finally got a few things organised.
Ripping a board at WIA2013.
On the Friday only, we tried out the concept and ran the Hand Tool Olympics. Offering the opportunity to the passing High School students to participate, we offered three skill challenges:
  • Cross-cut sawing across a 19mm pine board, 250mm wide.
  • Rip-sawing along a line the length of a 19mm pine board, 900mm long.
  • Shooting that ripped 900mm edge, to square and straight, using a No7 trying plane. 
Each participant was scored for time and accuracy in each of the three skill challenges, and their scores recorded and totalled. We found the activity was hungry on our staffing resources, as each participant needed someone to walk them through the process, to time them, to coach them where appropriate, and to score their accuracy. In our little experiment, we had 20 students participate across the three skill challenges - so there were 60 individual skill challenges undertaken.
A participant and his companions check progress with a straight edge during the edge planing challenge at .
Thanks to Phil for the great photo.

The verdict?  The trial run on the Hand Tool Olympics for the Friday at the Perth Wood Show was very successful, and has the potential to become a real feature of the Show. It is scary how generally poor the hand skills were across the bulk of the students.  Hopefully developing the Hand Tool Olympics in future years will help to raise the profile and the teaching of hand tool skills in high schools in future. This would be my aim in pushing this whole concept further.
 
Saturday and Sunday - woodworking with kids.
Since the WA Craft Show has been operating in the adjacent pavillion, there have been a heck of a lot of kids around across the twin events. What better opportunity to give kids a chance to have a go at woodworking!
Parents and kids creating stuff together.
We were mostly offering "free creative play" - lots of wood pieces, benches with hammers and nails, and saws at the sawing station. We'll commonly have 25-30 hammers out across the benches, and it's not unusual for people to be queing up waiting for a hammer to become available! Such is the popularity of this activity.
So many possiblities!
Thanks to my wonderful staff Thom, Phil and Megan who assisted me so reliably again as they worked their magic with the crowds.


The Perth Wood Show is a fantastic event, and a "must attend" gig for woodworkers of all levels of expereince and skill in Western Australia. It is, however, heavily oriented towards power tools and machinery. The Joy of Wood and the Hand Tool Preservation Society of WA are the two stand-outs when it comes to hand tool woodworking at the event. We provide a chance for kids to experince the joys of woodworking, and they sell the best tools in the whole place - good old fashioned hand tools. It's a good synergy between the two, really. Many a parent goes to the Hand Tool Preservation guys to buy a pre-loved tool for their kid after seeing the delight and engagement of their kid as they discover the joy of wood. Hundreds of kids had a great time and took home all that they made. 

Yep, we love to share the joy around...

Shooting an edge, Hand Tool Olympics on the Friday.
Another great photo by Phil.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A big day at the Science & Sustainability Community Expo.

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday, and many hundreds of people moved between the numerous stalls and activities at the Community Science & Sustainability Expo, at the Kent Street Weir on the Canning River in Wilson, here in Perth Western Australia. 
Part of National Science Week, this event was based around the Canning River Eco Education Centre. Tragically, we have a Federal Government made up of climate change deniers, who do not believe in science, who de-fund scientific research and who are committed to dismantling anything related to renewable energy! However, despite this tragedy, it is great to know that out there in the community there are hoards of people like you and me who do value science and are committed to reducing our footprint on the planet! It was a joy to be at the Expo today for all that it stood for.

Busy busy. People galore.

Mind you, I didn't get to see a lot of the exhibits, as I was absolutely flat out with the woodworking activity we were running today. Bursting out of our three 3m x 3m gazebos, we had 9 of the small benches out, with 27 hammers out, and 4 saws at the sawing station. For much of the day there was a queue of people waiting for a hammer to become available. I do a lot of festival gigs in the year, so I have a good idea of how much wood I would expect to go through at an event such as this... however today we used up far more than I could have imagined! We all but ran out of the pieces of wood that I take to these events.
Two big drums and 5 bags worth. It was a lot of wood, which generated a lot of pleasure as it was transformed by kids and adults into an amazing array of creations using only saws, hammers and nails. Wonderful stuff.

Parents and kids alike experiencing the joy of wood together.
Hardly room to move.
Part of our broader message.
Wood recycling fits in with the whole sustainability message. All of my benches are made from recycled timber, and all of the pieces of wood the kids use have all been rescued from the waste stream too. These small pieces of plywood and pine are cut up by me. It is a constant process, keeping up the supply for school and festival gigs. A big source of this material is beautiful Yellow Pine from the USA - from packing crates, which I gather up, de-nail, cut up into little pieces and bag up. This lovely material, which we also use for much of the project work we do with kids in schools, is much nicer than any Pinus radiata or Pinus pinaster we grow in Australia due to the closeness of the growth rings. Our climate is too mild and even. The European grown pine similarly has nice close growth rings. I get a bit of that in packing crates too.  

Some things take a serious amount of concentration!
Megan shows a few tricks at a bench.

It is great to see kids and parents creating things together. It is one of the reasons our activity is such an assett to any festival or public event. It helps to build community, invites participation from the passing throng, and sends kids back out into the crowd clutching their aeroplane, dolls furniture, or whatever they have made, with beaming faces. They have also left with a few new skills and experiences up their sleeve.
Then there are the messages: the importance of wood in the broader scheme of sustainable living; the simple pleasures of hand tool woodworking; the benefits of us creating things together away from isolating electronic gismos; and the way using hand tools helps to foster body awareness and hand-to-eye co-ordination.
... and that is just the start of it!   

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pre-School creations at St Marks Anglican Community School

Recently we did a woodworking incursion at St Mark's Anglican Community School, in Hillarys, here in Perth, Western Australia. This is the third year I have gone to the school to work with the Pre-primary students.

We had two classes of 30 kids - 5 year olds - and they had a ball! It was great to see the amazing things they created. It was our normal set-up for "Free Creative Play" in a school context. Across the 14 small benches we had 30 cross-pein hammers. On each of the benches were a pair of pincers, pencils, and nail containers with assorted nail sizes. The Sawing Station was set up with 8 assorted tenon/carcass saws at various heights appropriate to the size of the kids. There was a big pile of softwood pieces in various shapes and sizes for the kids to use, which we kept topping up.

After a briefing/demonstration about safe and efficient tool use, the kids get to make whatever they like from the material available.
One of the two tables of completed creations.
It was good to have a heap of parent helpers along to assist the kids, and they often get to learn a few tricks and techniques with hand tools too. Of course, the parents are asked to not "take over" (something Dads are notorious for) but to just hold things and generally help while the kids creativity goes wild. Thanks to those parents adn the wonderful staff for helping make it a great day.

What are the benefits for 5 year olds doing woodwork?
The benefits are numerous, but here are just a few:
  • Using any hand tools, but exsecially the saws, requires some body awareness. Sawing involves so many macro and micro muscle movements. Getting your body and body parts in the right position makes a big difference to the ease of sawing, When things "click into place" for a child using a saw, it is empowering and encouraging for them. They love it.
  • Skills for life. As kids we learn from experience, observation and reinforcement. Learning how to use a hammer or a saw is something you can take with you into the rest of yoru life. If a kid goes home from school that day and asks their parent(s) if there is a hammer in the house, that's a great thing. Hopefully the parent(s) will let their kid use it and give them a bunch of nails and a few peices of wood.
  • Working out how to put things together involves problem solving. So kids creating things with pieces of wood and a few hand tools will develop problem solving sklls - and problem solving builds resilience.   
  • Making things with pieces of wood helps the kids develop spatial relation skills, as they work out how to fit things together. Comparing pieces, cutting to size, choosing the right nail size, finding the right piece in the big bin of pieces - all these processes in the making of something help the brain develop spatial relation skills.
  • The encouragement and satisfaction derrived from completing the making of something is affirming and very positive. The resulting positive feedback the child receives from others around them helps to build self-confidence. Once again, self-confedence helps to build resilience.
  • In a press-button instant world, it's great for kids to experience the reality of something requireing some physical and mental effort, persistence and committment around a tangible, tactile medium and the creatiion of a real thing which can be played with, given as a gift, or displayed as a decorative item of momento. The creation which keeps on giving.
We do quite a lot of work with really young kids. They thrive on it, so it is always a pleasure to see them blossoming in the short period that they are at the bench creating something with their own hands.

Great to see this little guy using the small end of a cross-pein hammer, to get at a tricky nail position -  just as I had demonstrated at teh start of the class. Kids are often smarter than we adults give them credit for...

We are never too young or too old to benefit from the joy of woodworking!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Enjoying a "Taste of Green Woodwork" Workshop.

At the end of June, I had the pleasure of running another Green Woodworking workshop. This time we used the Vic Park Arts Centre as the venue. On a nice sunny day, it was great to be able to work out in the garden and on the verandah.

Front side of the info flyer for the June workshop.
Calling it "A Taste of Green Woodworking", the ten participants had a choice of either bowl carving or spoon carving. The wood we had to play with was Cape Lilac and Camphor Laurel.

Here are a few pics from the day:

That's me doing a demo on cleaving some Cape Lilac with froe and beetle.
Another lovely spoon taking shape.
Doing a demo on hollowing out the bowl shape with an adze.
A Camphor Laurel Bowl in the making.
The Shaving Horse is a joy to use!
The small bowl carving adze is a beauty.
A moment of contemplation...
Working on the verandah.
There were an assortment of hatchets and adzes to try out.
Shaping the outside of a Camphor Laurel bowl with a hatchet.
Using a Hook Knife to hollow the bowl of a spoon.

It's a very relaxing pastime carving spoons together.
While not every creation was completely finished, it was a great day working green wood together. 
 Pre-industrial woodworking. What a hoot! So interesting - and such fun!

The next Green Woodworking Workshop will be a 2 day affair, on two consecutive Sundays in September. We will be making both a three-legged stool and a spoon over that time.

Here is the front side of the flyer:


Monday, July 28, 2014

Woodworking incursion at Wembley Primary School.

Taking the Joy of Wood to primary schools is always a delight. Sure, it is very busy, very noisy, and hard work for us - but for the kids it is a fantastic opportunity to have a go at creating with their hands. For many kids it is the first time they have used hand tools.

Block planes are great for kids and adults alike.
Over 3 days, we would be working with 5 classes of Yr 6 & 7 students, each of about 28 kids.
The classes had previously agreed on the projects they would be making, from the menu I had offered. Four of the classes would be making small stools, and one class would be making small framed whiteboards.

It takes about 1.5 - 2 hours to set up the gear for a gig like this. We set up in the undercover area at the school.
Lunchtime - however quite a few kids came in, keen to work on their stools.
All the wood we were using had been rescued from the waste stream, with most of it coming from packing crates from the northern hemisphere. Some teaching of each class was done at the start of each session about the wood recycling imperative.
It all starts here. Packing crate material from the USA. A fantastic resource. 
For simplicity in the hands of the kids, I had machined the timber into consistent dimensions for the componentry. Nearly 120 stools and 30 whiteboards... that was a heck of a lot of timber!
One of the saws in action at the Sawing Station.
We teach the kids how to safely and efficiently use a range of hand tools. A Sawing Station was set up, with 10 tenon saws, each at a fixed bench hook with soft cramps as optional aids. The sawing station was a very busy place, with so many pieces to be cut for each stool.
Removing the arrisses with a Block Plane.
The students were shown how to use the block plane for removing the arrisses from their components prior to assembly.  They usually get the hang of it pretty quickly.
The structure is simple, and held with glue and nails.
A plywood jig was provided to assist with getting the angle of the legs right when the legs were glued and nailed to the end rails. the 2 end frames are assembled first, then the front and back rails are fitted, then lastly the three slat top is fixed on.
A completed whiteboard having a final clean-up with sand paper.
While the stools were glued and nailed, the whiteboard frames were screwed - using hand drills for drilling the holes, countersink bits in hand drills, and spiral ratchet screwdrivers to pump the screws.
Love this. A funky stand for a whiteboard... all his own work!
Our sessions were 2.5 hours long, which was only just enough time to complete the projects. Some breezed through, some found it quite challenging, but it was achievable by all. They were very rightfully all very proud of their completed stools and whiteboards.
Nice job, gang!
Sure, there was the odd wonky one, but no matter. The makers were proud of their work.
Where necessary, we levelled their feet.
It was a great 3 days at Wembley Primary School, and such a pleasure to see so many students enjoying themselves creating their stools and whiteboards.

Working with the hands is good for mind, the body and the soul....
We just need a lot more of it in our lives.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Make a shaving horse from recycled wood!

While traditionally a shaving horse would be made from green wood gathered from a forest or wood somewhere, not all of us city dwellers have easy access to the right kind and size of trees for this purpose. However, we do have access to wonderful seasoned timbers from all around the world which arrive in our cities in the form of packing crates, dunnage, and pallets. What a resource to work with!


Packing for the picking. Off the verge and into the back of the ute. Nice pine from the USA.
Earlier this year, I was needing to make up a few shaving horses for running workshops. So I started out by using some of the packing crate material I had collected which was in my timber racks.

Two models: the English Bodger style and the fabricated Dumb Head style.
There are many variations on shaving horses, though the most common styles would be the "Dumb Head" style, which has been around since at least the 14th century,  and the English Bodger's style which is a more recent (18th century) type of shave horse.

Making the Dumb-Head Style of Shaving Horse.
While I was in the USA last year, I used a fabricated dumb-head version while at the wonderful Roy Underhill's Woodwright's School. It was pretty much the same as this old plan by the legendary Drew Langsner, of Country Workshops, where I also spent some time while in the US. A big stick of timber I had would lend itself to making some of these.

shaving horse
While I found this kicking around on the internet, thanks anyway to Drew Langsner for the plan!

There was a nice long stick of timber in my possession, of some kind of Northern Hemispherical softwood, with Belgium stamped on it's IPSM 15 Mark. I had 6 of these sticks originally, which had come into Australia as dividers creating two layers of goods inside a sea container from Europe. Each was 7"x3" in section, 5.2m long. Yum. One of these would give me three 1.6m bodies for this style of shaving horse. Shown below after being docked up.



One long stick (5.2m) of some Northern Hemispherical softwood, here cut up to give me 3 shave horse bodies.

This "dumb-head", attached to the lever leg via a removable wedge, made from WA Blackbutt (Eucalyptus patens).
This version of a shaving horse I made to be collapsible. This would make them easier to store and easier to cart around. The four legs on each horse would be removeable as would be the lever leg. Hence the use of a wedge to hold the head onto the lever leg. Remove the wedge, slip off the head, take our the pivot bolt, and remove the lever leg. Piece of cake.  

Once part of a New Zealand manufactured bed. Now the lever leg of a recycled wood shaving horse.
It's great when a piece of recycled timber clearly tells something of its former life. I had pulled apart a bed someone had chucked out on a verge clean-up. Looking like interesting timber, I had picked it up and brougth it home for recycling. It happenned to bear a stamp from its manufacturer - made in Christchurch NZ in 1979. Love that 5 digit phone number! This bed was born the same year as my first child. This stamp is clearly visible now on the lever leg of a shaving horse.

My dear old Dad driving legs into the underside of a shave horse. Doug just turned 85. 
    The tops of the legs are tapered, to suit the tapered mortices in the body of the horse. While this helps to ensure they are removeable, I have found since that every now and then a leg drops out when you pick it up to move it. A small trade-off for portability, I guess. The tap of a mallet houses the leg, and the sideways whack of a mallet dislodges the leg. 

Completed dumb-head shave horse, with extended foot plate on lever leg.
 These shave horses work really well. Portable too. ...Fantastic.
This pics shows a lever leg without the extended foot plate.
The legs were made from some 30mm square blanks I have had for many years - originally for making Campaign Chair rails. Mostly sheoak (Casuarina sp.) and some WA Peppermint (Agonis flexuosa). Recycling old stock from my timber shorts rack - well they had only waited 20 years to be re-purposed! One day I will replace them with heavier looking legs - only because they will look better. The rest of the horses are made from packing crates, recycled furniture, and off-cuts from my joinery business.
This one has a nice chunk of jarrah for the head. Beautiful.
Thus far I have made 4 of these dumb head style horses. While the bodies are the same, each one has a slightly different lever leg, head and wedge. It all comes down to the variations in the bits of timber I pulled together to make the components up.

The perfect place to be using a drawknife... 
For the Green Woodworking Workshops I'll be running, I need to end up with about 12 shaving horses. I hope to have half a dozen of each of the two models of shaving horses. This way the workshop participants can expereince for themselves the pros and cons of each of the horse breeds.  


Making the English Bodgers' Style of Shaving Horse.
I had used one to these horses at Roy Underhill's last year, in North Carolina. A search on the net found the following plan from another legendary American Green Woodworker, Peter Follansbee.

Peter's plan was used to roughly base my bodgers' horse on.
It all starts with the right piece of wood, right? From outside a glaziers' warehouse, I had picked up a few boxes which had been used to import sheets of plate glass. From these boxes I had extracted some nice wide pieces of pine. Perfect for this type of shaving horse. It had been just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.
Such beautiful clear branding. This would have to be a feature! 
This timber was heat treated in the Arab Emirates, going by the ISPM 15 Mark so clearly branded on the packing crate. No idea where this pine grew, as it must have been imported into the Emirates in the first place. I wanted to ensure this branding would be clearly visible on the shave horses somewhere - a delightful testament to the fact that this timber had a previous life from packing crates.

Other pieces of packing crates used to make up the treadle frame. 
Unfortunately, I don't have many pics from the making of these horses.

View from the saddle. Nice blaze on this horse's nose! - the branding.
 The ramp is attached to the bed by steel hinges, mostly salvaged from old doors. The rise and fall of the ramp is altered by the block underneath, which is removeable for transport and can be slid forwards and backwards - thus changing the angle of the ramp and therefore the spacing between the horizontal of the treadle frame ramp. A nice action.  
These are a delightful horse to use. I have made three of them so far.
So there we have it... Two different horse styles, two different personalities.
I confess my favourite is the English Bodger's style. However, in retrospect I reckon these could have been made about a foot longer. You only notice this when working on longer pieces of wood, where you find your bum perches on the end of the seat. No problems, I still need to make more to reach my total of 12 horses.

Four of the shaving horses, two different models. All from recycled wood.
While it might be more romantic and 'true to form' to make a shaving horse from green wood, the eco-woodworker in me is delighted to be using wood predominantly rescued from the waste stream.

It is very easy to make a shaving horse from recycled wood. This wonderful tool, the shaving horse, has been used by chair bodgers, coopers, wheelwrights, wood carvers, spoon makers, basket makers, and so many other woodcraft workers - for centuries. By using wood rescued from the waste stream, and giving that wood a whole new life (Rather than just burning it or burying it in land fill) , I believe we bring honour to those trees from which the wood had originally come.

Soon I will make some more shaving horses... I can feel it coming on. It will be interesting to see what new breed emerges from this process. Stay tuned for a future post...