Modern Make-Dos

A ‘make-do’ is a term often used to describe damaged items that are repaired to remain functional — usually due to a combination of what was available, economics and a sense of thrift. Some of the repairs were rather modest, some were ingenious. An archetypical example of a ‘make-do’ is a piece of mochaware or similar pottery with a tin handle grafted on. Nowadays some folks collect make-dos for their quirkiness, functionality and price relative to other antiques which I think is fitting.

Earlier generations seemed to have a better sense of worth — if you invested all that time and money into the item, why not try to get as much use out of it as you can? I wish more folks today had that sentiment — it would help us get away from our disposable society.

Several years ago I bought a Delta X5 ‘Professional’ 6″ jointer. It’s a nice machine with an extra long bed for a machine of its size and generally well built. One big shortcoming on this machine is the large knob used to advance or retract the fence.

Delta X5 'Professional' 6" Jointer

Delta X5 ‘Professional’ 6″ Jointer

Within a few months of owning the machine this knob developed a crack. Apparently the knob was formed over a pinion gear that engages a rack connected to the fence.

Broken Knob

Broken Knob

When the knob slips you cannot advance the fence. At first I made do with the tape solution — ‘It’s only temporary unless it works‘.  I lived with this headache for several years, running out the machine’s 5 year warranty in the meantime as I knew a replacement knob meant pulling that pinion and getting a knob that would likely fail the exact same way.

Knob removed

Knob removed

While at NBSS I saw several of this same model jointer come and go as donations — units from the 1980s-present and all seemed to have the same affliction — broken or missing knobs. The really old iron stationary tools (including old Delta/Rockwells) we had, had knobs with metal handles that served their purpose for generations.

Band clamp variety pack

Band clamp variety pack

I figured there must be a better way to fix this knob and make-do. So I picked up a variety package of band clamps and test fitted them to the knob. The 1-1/16″ size fit perfectly. I applied some CA glue to the knob, attached it to the jointer and cinched down the clamp.

Band Clamp Test Fit

Band Clamp Test Fit

It’s not pretty, but it’s a a great make-do solution — I finally have a working fence adjustment knob again and it cost me less than a buck.

Working fix

Working fix

I wonder if my make-do will become a collector’s item for some future generation of tool collector.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. Why did I finally fix this knob after all these years? Yesterday the spring pin on the tilt wheel of my table saw was sheared off. Not from cranking overly hard on it, I assume due to metal fatigue. Apparently spring pins are not as common as they used to be as Delta no longer stocks the part, and other online tool parts suppliers and my local Home Depot, Lowes and True Value all did not have any in the correct size.

Spring or Roll Pins Variety Set

Spring or Roll Pins Variety Set

When I was ready to give up and search more online sources like Grainger or auto part stores I found that Harbor Freight was selling a set of 315 spring pins for $7, so I bit the bullet, went over there and bought the spring pin kit and a band clamp kit which was on sale for $5.99. While I would have liked to have purchased American made hardware for both of these projects I could not find anything else locally stocked that would fit the bill, so for about $13 these machines are up and running again and I have a drawer full of spares for the future. The old spring pin was driven out by using a roll pin punch and a hammer and the new pin was inserted by compressing the pin with some vise-grips and some light hammer taps to insert it. Both machines are back up and running and the shop is humming again.

Table saw tilt adjustment knob

Table saw tilt adjustment knob

If you have similar make-do tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Categories: Machinery | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Rocking Horse 33 Years In The Making

First off, I want to share some good news with everyone — in late August my wife Alyssa gave birth to our first child — a son named Bradley who came in at 10lbs 15oz and 23 inches long!  We’re both proud parents and my wife and the baby are both doing well. With the new baby, work, and teaching this semester,  I haven’t had as much time to blog as I would like. As things are calming down and and the cold weather sets in I’ll get some more time at the computer and will catch everyone up on what projects I’ve been working on. In the meantime I wanted to share with you one of the few family heirlooms I have — in this case my old rocking horse.

Oak Rocking Horse

Oak Rocking Horse

I’m convinced that Woodworking skills and appreciation for woodwork are hereditary to some degree. When I was a child my Dad — William D. Rainford — made a very nice rocking horse for me. The horse was constructed from solid oak and was just about complete — the woodworking was done, the seat was on there, but the horse lacked his eyes, mane and tail. The horse worked great and as a child I fondly remember riding on it.

Front View of Oak Rocking Horse

Front View of Oak Rocking Horse

With the impending birth of my son I bugged Dad to finish off the horse, teasing him that he had 33 years to finish it — that’s how old I am right now. I’m happy to report that my Dad came through and finished the horse off properly — he now has his eyes (which we are all still amazed that he had and was able to find after all of these years), a nice mane, leather ears and even a bridle.

Close Up Of Rocking Horse Head

Close Up Of Rocking Horse Head

I look forward to when Bradley is old enough to ride it. Right now it’s keeping watch over the other toys in Bradley’s room. Speaking of Bradley’s room and finishing off projects, I need to finish building the crib for Bradley before he outgrows his bassinet and starts giving me a hard time for not finishing off that project.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Children's Projects, Traditional Woodworking | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nashua Tool Show Sept 2014

I’m generally not a morning person, but twice a year for the Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction in Nashua, NH I seem to have no trouble getting up at 5am. The night before is more or less what Christmas Eve was like for me as a kid — not sleeping much and excited about what the next day will bring.

First aisle of tools on Thursday morning

First aisle of tools on Thursday morning

At this point I don’t need much by way of tools, but you never know what you will find in Nashua and the show is literally on my way to work. So I have been going on Thursday and Friday mornings. Thursday to shop, Friday to see friends from NBSS and see if I missed anything.

Tool chests for sale

Tool chests for sale

I always enjoy snapping a few pictures of tool chests and tills. (Including the nice H.O. Studley inspired cabinets here).

Student sized workbench

Student sized workbench

And examining the benches that make their way to the show.

Metal lined chest

Metal lined chest

This very utilitarian chest was largely made of heavy metal sheets.

Outside of metal lined and reinforced chest

Outside of metal lined and reinforced chest

And for the tool collector who has everything, why not pick up some giant metal shell casing, or a paint mill. The latter I did kind of want…

Everything from massive shell casings to paint mills

Everything from massive shell casings to paint mills

Or maybe a carved golden goose?

The golden goose?

The golden goose?

Friday morning with the auction in full swing you’ll find and even wider array of vendors selling their wares.

Friday morning, even more vendors

Friday morning, even more vendors

Along with some of the lots that are coming out of the auction.

Tool chests and levels

Tool chests and levels

This year wooden levels seemed to pop up a lot.

My finds

My finds

And of course, what did I come home with this year? I did pretty good this year, got some nice items and didn’t spend too much. I bought a nice  full set of Irwin auger bits — we’ll see how they compare to the Russell Jennings pattern bits I bought last year. A nice in the package Marples blue chip chisel set (The ones that were still made in the UK by Record) — they’ll make a nice set of travel chisels and/or for the classroom. A few old books including Charles Hayward’s ‘Furniture Repair’, and ‘Staining and Polishing’, Wood Turning with Richard Raffan, and an interesting book from the 1940s with a Sloyd-ish feel called ‘Visualized Projects in Woodworking’ by J.I. Sowers. A nice Stanley English 4 ratcheting jaw bit brace. A nice big redirect block to use with my gin pole. A pair of machinists 1-2-3 blocks. A Nicholson Saw Display. Pair of Starrett Dividers. Pair of Ulmia Bench Dogs. A real nice E.C.E. Coffin/Smoothing plane. And a nice 5″ deep 28″ long Atkins mitre box saw to go with the Stanley mitre box I bought in April — at the time it came with a 6″ deep Disston saw that worked fine by was a bit too tall for my liking, so this was a better fit.

Time to get all this stuff out into the shop before my wife kills me and get back to work on finishing a crib I owe a certain newborn.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Tool Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Studley Inspired Tool Cabinets

At the bi-annual Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction in Nashua NH one of my favorite activities is look at all the unusual stuff folks have for sale. This year some of the most interesting items were not for sale. Behind a table of tools for sale and a framed photo of the Studley Tool Cabinet, Bill Garrett of Sparrowbush NY had a trio of tool cabinets each carefully fitted to hold a variety of unusual tools. From talking to Bill, he started with some regular tool cabinets and fitted them out to hold a variety of interesting tools from his collection. Clearly inspired by H.O. Studley’s work, Bill incorporated piano keys, tools racks, tills, unusual hardware and period details to fit in an impressive number of tools into a modest space. From carved ivory whales and fists, to highly detailed miniatures, to piano keys, small brass locks, an 1804 coin, period photos and advertisements the cabinets are a unique creation. I had a great time talking to Bill and poking around in all three cabinets. Please check out the photo gallery below and you might also find some inspiration for some hidden compartments in your own tool cabinet.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Tool Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Woods the Difference?

As a woodworker we spend our time working with wood. But how well do we know this material? Do you know how a piece of wood is going to plane? Do you know how it will react to changes in humidity? Did you pick the right piece for the job? Is it the right species? Before I got into traditional woodworking I thought the old-timers spent an incredible amount of energy to do the most basic of operations and I was thankful for all the power tools at my disposal. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Many of our traditional woodworking forefathers had what seemed to be a much better connection to the wood and how it could be used and worked.

“They were friends, as only a craftsman can be, with timber and iron. The grain of the wood told secrets to them.” – George Sturt, 1923

The old timers used this knowledge to work the wood more efficiently with the tools they had on hand. They took advantage of wood’s strength in joinery, took advantage of planes of weakness in splitting wood, worked green wood when it was advantageous and dried wood as needed. They selected species suited to the task at hand and availability, they used parts of the tree like crotches, taproots and burls for purposes they were supremely suited for. They read the grain of the wood as they sized it up and felt how it handled when planed by hand.

This information is not dead to us in the modern world, but it takes some digging to find good sources and there is no substitute for getting out in the shop, experimenting with as many species as you can get your hands on and developing that close relationship to the wood. The woods are still out there waiting for you to make that connection.

The first step your journey to understanding wood is to learn the basics — what are the most prevalent wood species in your area and what are they most often used for? The info-graphic below is a great first step on this quest:

Wood Differences Infographic

Wood Differences Info-graphic — From http://www.furnitureuk.co.uk

The next step is to understand and identify the woods you have to work with. The seminal modern references on both of these topics were written by R. Bruce Hoadley in his books “Identifying Wood: Accurate Results with Simple Tools” and “Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology”. Both are excellent additions to your woodworking library and wonderful reference books, but if you plan to read them cover to cover be prepared for some sometimes dry reading material. I love that I can look up the coefficient of expansion of a given species but that is not an everyday need. If you want a more craftsman to craftsman introduction to wood as a material you might want to check out With the Grain: A Craftsman’s Guide to Understanding Wood’ by Christian Becksvoort. This book gives a nice crash course in how wood grows and works, how to identify common species and even a bit on how to grow and harvest your own wood.

What if I don’t want to share in all your fancy book learning?

While I am a bookworm I know that is not for everyone and that’s fine too. The board itself will tell you many of its secrets if you know how to listen. Grab a board you have on hand and go through the basic exercise of flattening it with a plane. The board will tell you its grain orientation — it will tear out if you are going against the grain. Spend some time with the board. Let it sit overnight in your shop and see if that flattened board moves at all. It will tell you when it reaches equilibrium with your current shop conditions. Experiment with your favorite finishes — the wood will tell you how it likes to react to that finish. Each minute you spend working with this material it will reveal more information that helps you improve your relationship with the material. If you are patient, spend some quality time with your hand tools and your wood, your skills and relationship will improve. In time you’ll be able to size up a board at the lumber yard and visualize how you are going to use it. You’ll break out your planes and get a feel for a given piece of wood — is it planing nicely or does it need to be coerced? Have you finished the board in such a way that your finish will turn out the way you want?  Does the species have the characteristics you need for this application? The investment in this relationship will pay dividends throughout your woodworking career. Your ability to listen to the secrets the wood has to share with you will make all the difference in the speed, results and enjoyment you get from your woodworking.

It’s time to get out into the workshop and and start that relationship….

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. A big thank you to Peter JS for sharing the above info-graphic with me. His company made the above graphic for their client furnitureuk.co.uk and said that we could share it here on the blog.

Categories: Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Learn The Visual Language of Drafting

Learning to draw is akin to learning how to compose music. Everyone has to start somewhere and the rough earlier work will help you build up to more complex pieces.  As a kid I loved to sketch — I would copy comic book images by hand.  As I got older I wanted to flesh out designs in more detail which required the accuracy of technical drawing or drafting. In High School I first learned the basics of drafting.  I took a quarter of mechanical drawing, a quarter of architectural drawing, and a quarter each of the AutoCAD version of each. The drafting skills I learned there have served me well ever since — both with pencil and paper and on a computer. Back then we had a machine that made actual ‘blue’ prints from our drawings and an old DOS version of AutoCAD that was even old by 1990s standards but the basics learned there served me well in later versions and even when using SketchUp today. I can still remember riding my bike 2 towns over with my best friend Jesse to pick up some drafting supplies including architectural templates so we could design houses in our free time. I still use those templates today.

Sample Drawing

Sample Drawing

I’m thankful that in the late 1990s the West Islip High School (NY)  had a technology wing offering classes in drafting, electronics, woodshop, autoshop etc and that I had some great teachers — Mr. Gerard Weick and Mr. Edwin Ermanovics who taught Industrial Arts and fostered creativity. I loved taking those courses and I still have the ‘Industrial Technology’ award from graduation somewhere — likely at my mother’s house. :-)

5 years later when I bought my first house I put the skills to use in designing a loft and a custom mantel. When it came time to pull a permit I had all my documentation ready to go. I had my plans reviewed the building inspector — he didn’t make a mark on them and said ‘Wow, I wish we had more people in town like you’ setting the stage for a great working relationship. Meanwhile at the table to my left I could see a professional contractor getting his rear handed to him by another inspector who apparently was not happy with that guys’ plans as it was covered in red ink and there was a lot of heated discussion going on. It goes to show that some careful planning and a clear drawing can go a long way to helping you efficiently go about the work you are interested in completing.

Architectural Scales

Architectural Scales

5 more  years down the road when I entered the North Bennet Street School I was able to apply those lessons to my drafting exercises and much like riding a bike it comes back to you quite fast. While in the program we had to draft every major project we worked on by hand — that not only helped with speed and accuracy in drafting but it also created a body of work that is handy to refer back to when needed. I still have many plans and story sticks from my time at the school.

Today in my work I usually draft an project by hand on paper — I can get my ideas down faster that way. Most of the time the hand rendered drawing is sufficient. Occasionally I’ll take my drawing and enter it into SketchUp — either to poke around a bit more in 3D, but most often just for the 3D renderings to dress up a blog post or presentation.

The ability to capture you thoughts and designs in a visual representation is quite powerful. A well thought out design on paper can save you considerable time and expense out in the shop. It’s much cheaper to fix a problem on paper than it is in wood — both the cost of the material and the labor involved. A clear working drawing also allows you to communicate to someone else how to fabricate your design.

If you are looking to learn the basics of drafting by hand, I encourage you to check out the Webinar I am teaching on September 10, 2014 8:30pm for Popular Woodworking University here. During the live event participants will have the opportunity to ask me questions etc. If you cannot make the event live the folks at Popular Woodworking will also offer a downloadable recorded version of the Webinar.

Sharpening

Sharpening

The course will cover the basic toolkit for drafting by hand, talk about how to draw a line, line weights, sharpening your leads, cleaning up your mistakes, laying out a basic drawing, lettering, adding dimensions and basic skill building exercises that will get you on the path to generating your own plans. With this basic set of skills under your belt you’ll soon be on your way to composing a great set of plans that will serve you well and make you a better, more efficient woodworker.

If you’d like to learn more about this course,  please check out the official description on ShopWoodworking.com [Editorial Note: Link removed since the event has passed and they took down that page on the site. When the recorded version is added for sale on their site I'll add that link]

I look forward to seeing you there.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. Mr. Weick and Mr. Ermanovics — Thanks again for all that you taught me — I hope that I am making you both proud as I look to share these skills with the next generation of woodworkers and craftsmen.

Categories: Popular Woodworking, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Avoid a Sticky Situation: Choose the Right Glue for the Job

Most woodworking projects require some gluing-up. With the variety of glues on the market, how should you know which one is right for the job? The answer depends on what you are gluing up, and how the finished project will be used. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of glue.

The Wide Variety of Wood Glues Available

The Wide Variety of Wood Glues Available

I recently wrote an article on this topic for Fix.com and thought you might also be interested in reading it. In the article I talk about:

  • Some of the more popular types of glue how to use them
  • Some of the less common wood glue variants and why you might want to use them
  • Simple tooling to help make sure your glue applications go well
  • Tips on using and storing glue

You can check out the full article here.

Below is a sample of some of the distinctive visuals from this article:

Fix.com Visuals from my Article on Choosing the Right Wood Glue for the Job

Fix.com Visuals from my Article on Choosing the Right Wood Glue for the Job

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Fix.com, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

House Detectives in Training

Each summer I teach a semester long class in ‘Traditional Building’ at the Boston Architectural College in association with the North Bennet Street School as part of the BAC’s Historic Preservation Master’s Degree Program. It’s a low residency program wherein most of the semester is taught online via a series of video lectures and assignments through an online class portal called Moodle, but for an 8 day week the students all fly into Boston for a hands on Intensive session. I have the students from 8:30am-5pm, they get a break for dinner and they have another class in the evenings — it’s an incredibly busy week for all involved but a great way for working professionals to earn a solid degree. This year was no exception.

The Main Reading Room at the Boston Public Library

The Main Reading Room at the Boston Public Library

As part of a class in ‘Traditional Building’ I’m teaching these budding Historic Preservationists the basics of how to ‘read a house’. What does that really mean? It means they are getting an overview of the major building systems used in traditional buildings, how style elements evolved over time and how to look critically at these buildings and learn to read the tool marks and materials to help investigate and document the state of the structure. Effectively it is a crash course in becoming a ‘House Detective’. Certainly a semester is not enough to learn all the ins and outs of a traditional building, but the course helps students get a taste of this wide ranging field and exposes them to some of the tools, trades, experts and other resources that will help them in their careers.

Group Picture in front of the Gibson House Museum

Group Picture in front of the Gibson House Museum

We spent a day touring some major architectural landmarks in downtown Boston — from the Paul Revere House, to the Pierce Hichborn House, to the Otis House, to the Gibson House, to the Boston Public Library and to Trinity Church.

Trinity Church -- by H. H. Richardson

Trinity Church — by H. H. Richardson

We also spent a day in the classroom workshop learning the basics of traditional woodworking. From planing to squaring up a board to building a small tool tote the students got a taste of what traditional bench work is like.

Bill Rainford Teaching Traditional Woodworking

Bill Rainford Teaching Traditional Woodworking

Many students had never used a hand plane or driven a cut nail before so it was a lot of fun showing them the ropes.

Traditional bench work -- squaring up a board etc.

Traditional bench work — squaring up a board etc. (Photo by Patti Vaughn 2014)

Another day during the week we spent with Sara Chase who is a well known Historic Paint Expert.

Sara Chase -- Historic Paint Expert

Sara Chase — Historic Paint Expert

Sara talked about the manufacture of early paints and led the class in mixing their own paints using mullers, oil and pigments.

Making traditional paints by hand with Sara Chase

Making traditional paints by hand with Sara Chase

Students then took some of the paint they made and applied it to the tool boxes they made the day before in the woodworking lessons.

Dierdre and Julie painting their tool totes

Dierdre and Julie painting their tool totes

We took a field trip to the Fairbanks House in Dedham MA which is the oldest standing Timber Frame in North America.

The Fairbanks House -- The Oldest Standing Timber Frame in North America

The Fairbanks House — The Oldest Standing Timber Frame in North America

Erin Leatherbee is the curator at the Fairbanks House and also one of the first graduates of the BAC’s Historic Preservation MDS program.

Erin Leatherbee (Curator) and her intern Aubrey give us an overview and tour of the Fairbanks house

Erin Leatherbee (Curator) and her intern Aubrey give us an overview and tour of the Fairbanks house

Erin and her intern Aubrey gave us an overview of the house and how it evolved over time and also gave us an in depth tour of the house itself.

Field work at the Fairbanks House

Field work at the Fairbanks House

While on site I had the class break out their notepads, tape measures and rulers for some field work.

Stephanie and Patti working on Window Condition Reports

Stephanie and Patti working on Window Condition Reports

Each student was assigned a window and wrote up a detailed window condition report.

Robert Adam talking about historic hardware and fasteners

Robert Adam talking about historic hardware and fasteners at the Saugus Ironworks

During the week we also took a trip to the Saugus Ironworks National Park to tour the facility. It was a very rainy day but with umbrellas in hand we toured the facility and museum, saw the Ironworks in action and participated in a hands on lecture by Robert Adam (founder of the NBSS Preservation Carpentry Program and nationally known preservationist) where he show the evolution of home hardware over time — from wrought and cut nails, suffolk and norfolk latches, patent hinges and all manner of lock-sets. (With all the rain I have very few pictures from that day)

Bob Miller (TA for this class, NBSS CFM Graduate, Historian, and Tour Guide) in his element

Bob Miller (TA for this class, NBSS CFM Graduate, Historian, and Tour Guide) in his element

After the paint lecture we went over to the MFA to tour the Americas Wing. With a baby on the way and good chance I could be called away to the hospital at any time I am thankful to have had Bob Miller as my TA this year. Bob is a graduate of the NBSS Cabinet and Furniture Making Program, an historian, professional tour guide and the perfect fit to help keep the course moving through all the venues we had to cover this year.

Preservation Masonry with Richard Irons

Preservation Masonry with Richard Irons

This year we also had Richard Irons a well known Preservation Mason come by to talk about masonry. The day was a mixture of time spent in the classroom and outdoors mixing mortar, setting some bricks, cutting blocks, re-pointing etc.

A sampling of historic bricks from Richard's collection

A sampling of historic bricks from Richard’s collection

Richard brought with him a nice sampling of some of the many historic bricks in his collection. It’s always interesting to see just how much the look, style and finish varied over time and location.

Felice and Jamie repointing the back of the school

Felice and Jamie re-pointing the back of the school

The students had the opportunity to re-point some mortar joints, lay up some bricks, cut blocks and get a taste for some traditional masonry work.

Dierdre building a brick wall

Dierdre building a brick wall

The last big day of the intensive week was spent timber framing with Brian Vogt who is a fellow graduate of the NBSS Preservation Carpentry Program and is the Carpentry instructor at the school.

Brian Vogt (NBSS Carpentry Instructor) explaining the basics of Timber Framing

Brian Vogt (NBSS Carpentry Instructor) explaining the basics of Timber Framing

After an overview of the tools, techniques and joints used in timber framing it was time to go stand up a frame…

Brian Vogt and Bill Rainford talking about timber framing, 2 man saws etc

Brian Vogt and Bill Rainford talking about timber framing, 2 man saws etc (Photo by Patti Vaughn 2014)

Also unusual about this event was the fact that we stood up the frame in ‘connector’ at the school which is  a new addition that connects two older buildings that make up the main NBSS campus.

Jennifer using the 'Commander' and Susan steadying the ladder.

Jennifer using the ‘Commander’ and Susan steadying the ladder.

It takes a lot of teamwork and heavy lifting to have a safe frame raising and the class did a great job that day.

Another view of the indoor frame

Another view of the indoor frame

With the frame standing it was time to get some quick group pictures and then start the process of disassembling it.

Group shot on the completed timber frame

Group shot on the completed timber frame

I’m exhausted just looking back on all we did that week, but I’m glad we got through it and I am confident that this group will be another great set of ‘House Detectives’ that will be out in the field solving some of the mysteries contained in our historic homes and museums.

Group photo on the last day of the class

Group photo on the last day of the class

If you’d like to learn more about this course or the school, please check out these related posts from prior years.

Take care,
-Bill

 

Categories: Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Hand Sloyd

When investigating history there is often no better source than a first hand account. In this post I’d like to share with you a first hand account from my friend James A. Clarke of what it was like to participate in a manual training based program back in 1947. (If you are new to the blog or would like a refresher on Sloyd please check out some of my posts on this topic here) All of my experiences have been fairly recent and/or from research into a lot of Salomon and Larsson’s writings and from old North Bennet Street School newsletters so to meet someone with first hand experience from when the original movement was going strong is quite the treat.

Manual Training Scissors Holder

Manual Training Scissors Holder

Here are Jim’s recollections of the manual training and one of the projects that survives:

Sloyd — Manual Training (Woodworking)

J. Clarke’s Recollection of Early Woodworking Training While in Public School Grades
As a small boy in Toronto, while attending Bowmore Road Public School (from Kindergarten thru 8th grade), between about 1941-1949 I also attended Manual Training Classes held at Norway Public School a few miles (walking distance) from home. How often this was, I’m not sure (can’t remember) — maybe about once per week in the 7th or 8th grades?? One thing for sure it was in 1947, at least, because there is an item still in our possession (a wall hung scissors holder) dated that year, made by J. Clarke. I do remember, however, the teacher being very disgruntled, and disappointed in me because I elected to draw and paint the chamfers (bevels) on the item, rather than use the chisel and plane, because it was easier! (I was always looking for the easy way out!)

Whether or not this was a “Sloyd” program is not clear, but certainly was a “Manual Training” program of the Toronto School System.  ” – by James A. Clarke, July 2014, Age 79

James A. Clarke sharing his love for woodworking with the next generation.

James A. Clarke sharing his love for woodworking with the next generation.

 

In most Sloyd and similar Manual Training programs the teachers were encouraged to modify the set of models they used to suit the personality needs of the class and tastes of the local culture. I don’t know if the project below was from a book or developed by the instructor, but it certainly is in line with the other models I’ve studied in the extant publications on this topic. (I scanned through what I had but didn’t find this exact project — if any of my bibliophile friends find the project, please share it here as that would also be interesting to check out)

Jim shared with me the following photos of the wall hung Scissors holder he made back in 1947:

(The photos above were taken by James A. Clarke, scanned from hard copy by Bill Rainford both in 2014)

It looks like it was a well designed project and has survived the test of time. If you’d like to build your own version of this project — either for yourself or with any children or grand-children who are on their to becoming Sloyders — Jim has also drafted up a very nice and very detailed set of plans which you can download here:

Scissors Holder from James A. Clarke

If you wind up making your own version of this Scissors holder, please drop me a line or leave a comment as I’m sure others would be interested to see it as well.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. Thank you again to James A. Clarke for sharing this material with us. Jim lives in Hilton NY with his wife Margaret. Jim is an avid tool collector and generous with his time and knowledge. I have his phone and email address but I am hesitant to put that on the open internet, so if you’d like to contact him directly please send me an email or leave a comment and I can provide that info in a less public way. (I don’t want him to wind up with lots of spam etc)

 

 

Categories: Guest Blogger, James A. Clarke, Sloyd | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Timeless House

Every house has a story to tell. Some homes have stories full of history, drama, beauty and mystery. Other homes tell a story of defiance, decadence or even austerity. Each of these homes is a unique reflection of the folks who built them, the times they lived and worked, how they were used and how they changed over time. When you picture a house with some of these memorable characteristics, what do you think of? Do you think of a massive modern McMansion which is often a huge cube with garish gables and conflicting architectural details tacked on? Or do you think of a well proportioned period home that has stood the test of time? Do you picture a New England connected farmstead with its collection of telescoping additions, ells and outbuildings? Or maybe a humble postwar cape?

Anyone who knows me from my writing, teaching or in person has likely heard me go on at length on many of the shortcomings of modern building with respect to to design, materials, size, quality and sustainability. More and more often I keep seeing new homes being thrown up by General Contractors who think they are also designers — they take a stock set of plans, tack on a few dozen more punch list items and ‘upgrades’ that result in a terrible composition and flow and then go on charge an arm and a leg for them. The fact that anyone buys these monstrosities is as sad a reflection on the consumer as it is on that builder.  As of late I’ve driven by a few such properties that pained me enough that I took to posting them on my personal Facebook page and critiquing them with like minded friends — often with entertaining and enlightening results. I’m usually trying to espouse several tenets of my own views on traditional building and can often be heard saying “If you don’t buy a poorly designed and executed home, they won’t build them“, “Invest in quality not quantity” and similar things that seem straightforward enough in isolation but are often missed when folks actually go out to buy or build a home.  I’m concerned that this sort of message is not reaching enough of the home buying and building public.

Building a Timeless House by Brent Hull

Building a Timeless House by Brent Hull

Thankfully I am not alone in having this view. I recently read a copy of Brent Hull’s newest book titled “Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age”.  In this book Brent does a great job of articulating the need for consumers to understand the current state of home-building — from track houses, to higher end spec houses and grand mansions and why most houses being built today have lost a lot of what made those earlier houses so memorable and comfortable to live in. This is not a book for the tradesman to learn how to physically build such a house, but it is a thought provoking primer for homeowners and builders to engage in a more meaningful discussion and help get them on the path to building a house that will meet the owner’s needs now and well into the future.

He starts with an explanation of how many of the elements we often take for granted — and that are in plain sight — have a strong influence on how we interpret and live in a home. As a preservationist we often play the role of a house detective trying to suss out the story of how this home came to be, how it was situated on the original plot, how it changed over time and how it may have looked at a given time. In order to do this we need to understand how our forefathers built these homes — the tools and techniques as well as the layout and design. Brent goes on to talk about how the Classical Orders of Ancient Greece and Rome were based on the human scale and ideals and how they have had a profound impact on the later design of public and private edifices as well as how we as a society want to project our values and beliefs.

“What we build defines us” — Brent Hull

When building a ‘Timeless House’ we often have to address the question of how to judiciously make use of modern technology. In the general haste to always use the latest and greatest, or sometimes cheapest new building method or materials to meet a budget or a timeline the house design and/or execution can suffer. As Brent writes “A timeless house does not rely solely on new technology. It is crafted with a combination of products and skill in such a way that it is built to last. Most of these skills are grounded in historic method.” An investment in better design, materials and craftsmanship will yield a better livable, longer lasting and I would argue better selling home if we can educate the public on what to look for and what level of standards to expect. This is similar to the ‘Not So Big House’ philosophy advocated by Sarah Susanka (Sarah’s books are another great resource for homeowners looking to build a comfortable home).

Most residential construction today is lacking in architectural design with Architects spending their efforts on the more lucrative commercial market leaving the General Contractors and similar folks to try and fill the void. The Architects working in the residential space are note often well trained in classical orders which further compounds the issue.

“A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines” — Frank Lloyd Wright

If you’ve ever visited a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright you’ll see many of these ideals manifest themselves. I enjoy visiting many of Wright’s Usonian homes which were generally of a modest size but made use of modern and traditional materials, had a strong sense of unifying design, were executed under the supervision of someone who understood the owner’s plans/needs/desires/budget and have stood the test of time. Many of these homes exhibit timeless qualities that are often hard to articulate until you start breaking down the building into many of the aspects Brent covers in his book.

How did we lose our way? Since the end of WWII many things have changed in our built environment. There was a pent up demand from the leaner war years, many returning G.I.s looking to start a family, a rapid mechanization resulting from the ever advancing technologies and cheaper transportation means that were being developed and rolled out like that of an assembly line, and a culture that became increasingly materialistic and consumer driven. This perfect storm of circumstances really drove the craftsman from the scene. I grew up on Long Island, NY — about 15 minutes from Levittown which was one of the most iconic instances of production building. These cookie-cutter homes helped a lot of folks get out of the dirty overcrowded city can hopefully lead a better life, but it also lead to sub-urban sprawl and many of its maladies. When folks outgrew their starter cape they simply moved to the next development a few miles further out on the island and repeated the process with another builder. Trading up was encouraged everywhere — do you remember the GM ‘ladder of success‘? — if you were doing well you could trade up from your Chevy to a Buick or a Cadillac. Over time as this model of building became more and more common the average house became a poor approximation of what earlier generations produced. These modern homes were assembled rather than crafted, built from commodity materials that were designed to be replaced as a unit when they failed — rather than being fixed — and leaving many of the homes a rather boring set of boxes with simple trim that was often dictated by price and supplier availability rather than for aesthetic value or historic precedent.

So how do we avoid all this doom and gloom? The solution is education. The book calls out many very good resources for how consumers can educate themselves on what sorts of designs, styles and products they want to include in their homes. He also defines strategies that will help you focus in on what you are looking for, how to articulate it and how to evaluate the folks you decide to include on your team that will help make it all come together.

I’m glad to see that this book was written and I encourage anyone who desires a Timeless House to check out the book and then get out there and start exploring — drive around older neighborhoods and note the things you like. Travel to other locales. Talk to folks you see doing good craftsmen oriented work. Follow blogs that are interesting to you, note pictures you like on Pinterest, Houzz and similar sites. Talk with local preservation groups. All these data points will help you refine what you are looking for and get you on the path to something better.

Go out and tell a story with your home.

Take care,
-Bill

About Brent:

Brent is a friend of mine and a fellow graduate of the North Bennet Street School’s Preservation Carpentry program. Since graduating from NBSS Brent has gone on to develop a nationally recognized Architectural Millworks and Historic Preservation company call ‘Hull Historical Architectural Millworks‘ which is based out of Texas. He is the exclusive millworks supplier for DuPont’s Winterthur and has worked on many public and private projects that have resulted in many awards and accolades over of the years. You can read a bit more about him in an earlier blog post I wrote here, and you can see what he’s been up to on his blog here.

 

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