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...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Intergenerational Woodworking at the Stirling Men's Shed, 2014.

Another successful program completed. Recently I'd had the privilege of facilitating another woodworking program at the Stirling Men's Shed, bringing together grandparents or parents and their grand kids or kids. The last one of these was conducted in 2013, where we made tables.

This time we set out primarily to make chairs and stools. The nice change this time was this program also being open to women. The Stirling Men's Shed facilities are made available every second Saturday afternoon to the women's recreational woodworking group, "Women Working with Wood".   This opened up the possibility for the program to be both inter-generational and inter-gender!

Unfortunately, I did not get many photos along the way - nor did I get pics of every pair or their completed projects, sadly. However, the few I did capture are shown amid the text below.

Dermot and his Grandad Bert together made a stool to match some others they had at home.
The Process.
We started looking at chairs and stools, their construction, the forces at play, and how we build to increase strength in the right places while also seeking the right balance between aesthetics and functionality. With curves, angles and even compound angles, getting it right is important. The best way to do this is to do a scale drawing of the chair/stool and any critical aspects. This way you can transfer the angles and measurements from the drawing, taking away the guesswork. We did our drawings on pieces of 6mm (1/4") MDF or ply. Each pair (there was one trio) decided together what they would be making before embarking on their drawing process. Once the direction was established, the participants could start with their cutting list, gather the materials, and start making components using the gear in this great facility.

Callum and his Grandad Bob working on their nice kitchen chair together.
The Joinery.
Participants could use whatever jointing method they liked, but I encouraged people to try out using furniture dowels. This was a new experience for many, but like any joint-making in woodworking, it's all in the accuracy of the marking out - and getting your head around the angles etc. The Shed has a nice big old horizontal dowelling/slot-mortising machine, which is rarely utilised. It needed a bit of work to become functional (thanks, Ashley!), but between that machine, the drill press, and some good self-centring dowelling jigs which I have, the dowelling process could be easily done - so long as you got your head around the boring angles. Here's a tip: always bore the holes perpendicular to the meeting faces!  
What a duet! Kanta and her son Aneesh made this nice piano stool together.
It has a music compartment under the hinged upholstered lid.
The Wood.
Unless you brought your own timber, the material made available to us for the project was predominantly pine. Some of this was structural, some was recycled, and some of this had formerly been packing crates. Whatever the source, the important thing is careful selection of the material to ensure no knots will end up in critical places, that you can machine the material down to the required dimensions, and that you can maximise the use of the timber. Just good old prudent timber selection... Most of the finished chairs and stools were going to be stained to their makers' preferred finish.

Hugh and grandson Cameron made and upholstered this nice stool together.
Upholstery.
A number of the chairs and stools would have upholstered seats and the rest had solid seats. I had brought my upholstery gear and some basic materials along, for those who needed it. For many it was the first time they'd tried this. While they discovered that it is mostly pretty straight forward, it is the corners which are tricky. Despite this, they all did a pretty good job of the upholstering. Those participants who upholstered their seats can justifiably be proud of what they did.

Suzanne and grandson Malachi made a good bedside table together, complete with drawer.
The days Suzanne couldn't be there, Malachi's Dad was on board. Another family effort!
The Results.
It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. The pics through this post have many stories to tell. All of the participants have much to smile about - they've made some nice furniture, and they travelled the journey together. Together they have shared the learnings, the ideas, the tasks, the frustrations, the anticipation and the satisfaction. There is always something new to learn, and it was great to spend time together working on a common project.

Grandad Bernie with Aidan, Eilish and their Dad Roger.
A real family effort designing and making this beaut pair of stools. 
Many thanks to the City of Stirling for sponsoring this great program, and to the Stirling Men's Shed for giving us access to their fantastic facilities over the five consecutive Saturday mornings to undertake the program.

Raff and his grandad Ashley together built this nice chair with a shaped wooden seat.
It also has a relief carved anchor and ship's wheel on the fore and aft of the backrest.
The Benefits.
How to you measure the value of a program like this? Yes, there were opportunities for each participant to learn a few woodworking skills and techniques along the way, and experience the process of drawing up a piece of furniture and taking the construction through to completion. There is also something tangible and practical that they have made together, in the form of useful pieces of furniture.
Amid these worthwhile outcomes sit other less quantifiable but probably more valuable things - the chance to create something together. Time together. Working together around a common goal. A shared experience. Wonderful stuff.

...Positively Priceless.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Camphor Laurel Adventure.

While picking up some nice WA Blackbutt timber recently from Derek Doak The Timber Bloke, I came away with a bonus - a big chunk of Camphor Laurel. Thanks, Derek!

The two crotch sections about to be cut from the log.
The crotch from the end of the log Derek would be able to use. The next crotch in was less useful to him to recover timber, as it was a bit complicated being a four way fork. I reckoned it would be worth seeing what I could recover from this big crotch, even if it was only spoon material!
Big and VERY heavy - loaded by the forklift.
Normally, for green woodworking, we want nice straight grained log sections. These are more likely to split evenly. This big piece of Camphor Laurel was anything but straight! It was going to be a gamble, and a bit of an adventure...

I had to use levers to manoeuvre the stump off the back of the ute. THUMP! 
Once off the back of the ute, the big chunk was sitting in my driveway. Totally unmovable, it was time to make it much smaller.

Picking a line to cleave the log in two. Pencil line through the pith.
The other end of the chunk had a 20 inch (500mm) diameter.
The three branches were primarily coming off one side, so my aim was to cleave off the clear section. This guided my choice of a line - which had to pass through the pith (the very centre of the tree). The pith would also fork at least three times, as it goes up the centre of each of the branches too. We need to miss those forks in the pith in the process. Well, that's the plan, anyway!

Too big for the froe, this job calls for a line of wedges to be driven in with a sledge hammer.
The split develops...
As the split developed, I removed some of the bark with a hatchet in order to follow the split. It wasn't looking like we'd be getting a clean separation - there were interlocking fibres going everywhere. More pounding on the wedges followed.

Running out of wedge length on the end, it was time to follow the split down the sides.
As the split formed and gradually opened as it spread down the log with the aid of side wedges, it was becoming apparent that the interlocking fibres were preventing a clean split. Not a good sign, these fibres were stopping the log from cleaving apart. These would need to be cut. With little room to get the hatchet in there between the wedges, I used a nice sharp firmer chisel to chop through the bridging fibres. A tedious job, the popping sounds coming from the log were encouraging.
In the absence of a big slick, I used a firmer chisel to chop off some of the fibres bridging the split. 
Resisting all the way, this was how the split emerged at the other end.


The big crowbar helped finish the separation. A nasty separation. Not clean at all!
A good view of the wild fibres. No wonder it took a huge effort to cleave the back off this big chunk!
As the forming split had indicated, the section was twisted as well as wild. This is evident in the photo above. While I did successfully cleave the back off the beast, this big twist and wild interlocking grain was going to really limit what we could do with the whole log. Time to see if we can successfully cleave in two the good flitch I had removed.

A line picked to cleave the good section in two. Note the wild twisting grain.

Even with the "good" section cleaved in two, it still wasn't looking good.
Decision time...
It was clear that I would gain little benefit from trying to keep breaking the material down in this manner. So to maximise this gnarly big chunk of Camphor Laurel, it was clear the best use would be to use the chainsaw to create a range of bowl blanks and spoon blanks. Time to plug in the trusty electric chainsaw. The two long "clean" pieces I had riven from the back of the chunk were twisted, so first I would cut these in half lengthwise...

The first of many bowl blanks. Thanks, trusty chainsaw.
A bit more work with the chainsaw would create a nice stack of bowl blanks.

Eight big bowl blanks and a couple of chunks to offer up a number of spoon blanks.
The important thing about the bowl blanks is that there needs to be no pith running along or through the blank, as this is were splitting will take place in the finished bowl. I was pretty happy to be able to successfully obtain 8 bowl blanks from a big chunk with 3 side forks!

This was the first time I have tried to cleave a big piece of green Camphor Laurel. Was the interlocking grain and it's unfriendly nature normal for this tree species? I don't know...
I knew the big chunk would be tricky, due to the forks in it. While I won't be making stools from this log, I have obtained a pile of very nice bowl blanks! They will be very handy for the workshop I have coming up in 2 weeks. I put the bowl blanks in plastic bags to retain the moisture content.
Thanks again, Derek.

Wow. The over-powering smell of camphor in my front yard is amazing, hours later!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gathering up a feast of Cape Lilac wood.

During my Green Woodworking adventures, I have been exploring woods suitable for use which are readily available here in Perth, Western Australia. While there is a long tradition of green wood crafts in Europe and North America going back over centuries, this is not the case here in Australia.

Consequently there are very little green wood crafts being done here - except for a few crazies like me. I am eager to share the wonders of green woodworking with other West Australians, but we need some friendly timbers to work with. That knocks out most of the gnarly eucalypts which predominate our forests and bushlands! However, parks, gardens and back yards offer a whole world of exotic tree species to chose from, so I am on the hunt for timber which is readily available, which splits easily, and is not too hard and unfriendly.

A prolific backyard exotic tree in the older parts of Perth is the Cape Lilac. This tree is also known in other parts of the world variously as White Cedar, Chinaberry, Persian Lilac, and more.   Known in the botanical world as Melia azedarach, the Cape Lilac happens to be a member of the Mahogany family. Mmmm... there might be some potential here...
One of the two piles of Cape Lilac trunk sections to choose from.
Looking in Gum Tree one day recently, (Gum Tree is an on-line equivalent to Craig's List in North America), I noticed someone offering the wood from some Cape Lilacs which were to be removed from their back yard in suburban Perth. These very kind people allowed me to take whatever I wanted from the pile left after the tree loppers had dropped the tree and cut it up into chunks.

Sadly, I would only be able to take one ute load of wood (only due to a lack of storage space!) so there was plenty to chose from. Some pieces I was able to lift (with difficulty) into the back of the vehicle. Others I would have to break down to make them smaller and more manageable. Time to get out the wedges!
I marked the line I had chosen to split the log, right through the pith.

Too big for the froe, a cluster of wedges driven along the line would get the split started.
More wedges to extend the split down the trunk.
Half a log = half the weight. Nice timber, two halves here of different logs.

Breaking down one half of the log again. Quarters, 5' 6" long.
There were a couple of other log sections which I also broke down into smaller pieces. Each of the log sections chosen and the way they were broken down were based on a list in my head. The planning for what I would be making starts with the log and how it is to be split down.
Breaking down a shorter section to create a couple of bowl blanks.

A couple more bits, and that'll be a load. That's a lot of weight too!
The next step was to take the load of logs home, where I would break them down further, to reduce the degrade. From the moment the tree was cut down, water has been leaving the saturated wood fibres. Breaking the log down into smaller sections would help to reduce the forces which cause splitting due to the cells shrinking as they dry.
Thanks to the tree for the gift of this wonderful wood.
I then took the load home for part 2 of the process...
Start a split and follow it along, one wedge after another.
Working on a pair of wide topped low saw horses, I pulled the logs and log sections off the back of the ute one by one and proceeded to break them down further. I had a "cutting list" in mind, based around a number of projects I am working towards.

Split completed - but some run-out on the bottom end.
Such an interesting wood, the Cape Lilac (referred to as White Cedar on Australia's Eastern Seaboard) also occurs naturally in some rainforest areas of New South Wales and Queensland. In Western Australia it has been grown for many decades as a garden tree.

The Bible of technical info about trees for Australian woodworkers is "Wood in Australia", by Keith Bootle. Originally published in 1983, it has been reprinted numerous times since. A book worth having on your book shelf. According to Bootle, the texture of the timber from this "medium sized deciduous hardwood" has a "course and uneven texture due to the ring porous nature of the wood. Grain straight". Certainly my previous experience and experience with this latest pile of logs confirm the straight grain suggestion! He goes on to describe it as: "Easy to dry. Collapse slight. Shrinkage about 2.5% radial and 4.5% tangential. Easy to work." In other words, pretty stable. He gives the Green Density as 640kg/m3 and Air Dry Density as 450kg/m3.  So it's dry density is similar to many of the Firs, Pines and Spruces found in the Northern Hemisphere.  It's pretty light and soft - in contrast to the many Australian hardwoods I am so used to working with! Bootle states that "the heartwood is probably not sufficiently durable for external use" and gives it's use as being for "internal joinery". He gives it's availability is recorded as "rarely cut".

Of course, Bootle is writing essentially for the Australian commercial timber trades - so there is nothing recorded specifically for crazy green woodworkers! However his info is always very interesting...

Cleaving off billets. I love the way this stuff splits so nicely!

Oooh, yum!

Nice split before the froe, even on a tangential line.

A whole bunch of spoon blanks, in small billets. 
There is an art to breaking down or splitting of logs like this. I have noticed that in the USA the term most commonly used is "Riving", whereas in the UK it is most commonly referred to as "Cleaving". Green woodworking has riven / cleft timber at it's heart. This is a fundamental skill.

Historically, logs were initially all broken down in this way, until transport systems were able to cart whole logs to more centralised saw mills. Before that, a log split in half could more easily be cut into boards by pit sawing. Here in Western Australia, billets cleft from jarrah logs were once shaped by broad axe and adze into railway sleepers, on the forest floor where the trees were felled.

There's something wonderful - almost primal - about the process of converting a log into billets of riven/cleft wood. It is also a process which requires a lot of skill. I did have a couple of challenges when cleaving the longer lengths of logs, with some run-out. What can take place is the split can jump across the fibres onto another line. A skilled person can "steer" the split with the froe, but I confess I am still in the process of acquiring that skill!

A bit of run-out on the far end.

Nice billets.

A bunch of cleft sticks which will hopefully end up making Sussex Trugs.
 I am lucky that winter is upon us. The weather is mild, it is raining every couple of days, so the moisture content of the air is high. This is good as it slows down the rate of drying of the timber, for the moisture content of the timber is seeking to come to equilibrium with the moisture content of the air around it. The rate of drying can be further slowed down, and therefore the end checking reduced, by the application of something on the ends of the logs and pieces of timber, to clog up the pores in the ends and seal them. In this case I used the stodgy glue in the bottom of a big pot of my favourite glue, Titebond III. You can also use thick paint or even the commercially available emulsion... but I had this gluggy glue in the pot which was too thick to pour out, and it made sense to use it up. I know from previous experience that Titebond III works really well for this task! 

A few bowl blanks, spoon blanks and some other shorts (leg material) with the ends sealed.
Despite the fact that I can't wait to start using this wonderful pile of  timber, it is just going to have to wait for a while until I have the time and opportunity to go to the next stage  - to start making stuff from it!!

In addition to using it for bowls and spoons, and experimenting with it for stools and Sussex Trugs, I am planning to use some of it to run the next Green Woodworking Course.
Watch this space...

Thanks to the very nice folks who advertised in GumTree and gave me the opportunity to collect this nice feast of Cape Lilac. Hopefully some of you readers in Perth may be able to come have a taste of the joys of Green Woodworking with me sometime soon!