Author Archives: Rainford Restorations

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Preservation Carpentry, Custom Furniture, Custom Mill work, Instruction, Preservation Masonry,

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: , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

 

Categories: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The best $1 you can spend on your workbench

I recently finished off my never-ending project — building a proper workbench. I snapped some photos figuring it will never look this pristine again. Time to press the bench into service…

Things started off great, but I wanted to set my jack plane to take a heavy cut and see how just how aggressive I could get before the bench started to move. I’m 6′-1.5″ tall and 240lbs, so if I really get going I’ve moved many a sizable bench over the years. At 7′ long and made of solid maple the bench has a good amount of mass. The problem I have is a very smooth concrete floor which provides little traction for wood.

With a concrete slab I won’t be bolting the bench to the floor so I needed an alternative. I ran through several alternatives in my head but couldn’t come up with a good solution that didn’t jack up the bench. As I sat on my sawbench looking around the shop I recalled a blog post by Chris Schwarz from earlier in the year wherein he put some sandpaper on a shim and have very good results. (You can see Chris’ post here). Sandpaper didn’t get much traction on the concrete floor, but it triggered a different thought. Years ago Rockler marketed a ‘routing mat’ which was effectively an expensive roll of rubber drawer liner. The cheap Yankee in me promptly went out and bought a roll of drawer liner for a couple of dollars and he has served me well for a decade or so now.  I went to my router station, grabbed the mat and cut out four squares roughly the size of the foot pads on my bench. I put them under the bench and repeated my experiment…

Rubber mat can help your bench stay put

Rubber mat can help your bench stay put

To my surprise it worked great. The weight of the bench compressed the pad so much the bench height is negligibly higher off the ground. I was able to aggressively plane some hard maple scraps left over from the bench and it was solid and stationary. I’m sure someone who really wanted to move it enough could find a way, but the increase in traction was impressive. If you’re also living with a concrete floor in the shop you’ll want to give this a try — it’s about the best $1 bench upgrade you can make.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I’ll make some posts about building the bench, but right now I have a some competing priorities taking my much of my time. We have a baby on the way in August, I need to build a crib, and I’m teaching for much of the rest of the summer. I’ll be posting as I get some free time here and there but it may be in spurts.

P.P.S. In digging up the the blog post above from Chris I learned that I am not the first to do this sort of thing with various forms of rubber padding — nonetheless the simplicity and the results were still worth sharing.

Categories: Modern Carpentry, Traditional Woodworking | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

1805 Taylor Old Up and Down Sawmill

One of the hidden gems of Derry NH is the 200+ year old Taylor Sawmill. It’s one of the last surviving and working up and down sawmills in the region and likely the country.

Taylor Sawmill, Derry, NH

Taylor Sawmill, Derry, NH

Powered by a large water wheel, this mill still operates for demonstrations and the occasional bit of restoration work.  It’s amazing to see and hear this mill in action. There is a distinctive noise as the saw makes each powerful stroke like clockwork, and it’s almost scary as you can feel some of the vibration through the floor and feel the air move as this massive timber frame saw blade oscillates up and down.

The mill is powered by a large water wheel which is fed by an adjacent pond.

The mill is powered by a large water wheel which is fed by an adjacent pond.

The blade itself is held in tension by a massive timber frame. You can think of it as a giant frame saw. The blades could be changed based on the type of materials being sawn and desired finish quality results. In the video below you’ll see the mill operating at one of its slowest speeds. Each blade was set and sharpened by hand. As the saw cut the timber, the ratcheting mechanism (driven by the massive geared wheel in the bottom left of the photo below) advanced the entire timber into the blade via a moving carriage.

Up And Down Sawmill in Action

Up And Down Sawmill in Action

The mill itself sits on land in Derry NH purchased by Robert Taylor in 1799. The mill started operating in 1805 and had a fairly long service life. The mill site and 71 acres around it were purchased in 1939 by Ernest Ballard. By that time the original mill itself had been scrapped. Ballard eventually found a similar up and down sawmill in Sandown NH and moved it to the Taylor site. Ernest and his wife spent several years restoring and rebuilding that sawmill. He had to make the missing parts and track down a viable water wheel. Thankfully he persevered and was able to complete this project. In 1953 he donated the mill and 71 acres around it to the state of NH, thus creating Ballard State Forrest.

Back in 2010 I visited the mill with a class of North Bennet Street School students and took several photos and videos which I have edited together into a YouTube video that you can watch  here which includes the water wheel and saw cutting a timber.

 

It was an incredible sight to see, and a great place to have a picnic or do some kayaking. If you are in the area, please check it it out. You can learn more about this mill and plan your visit by visiting it’s official web page here and the Wikipedia entry here.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Historic Places, Museum, NBSS, Traditional Woodworking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting the Most from your Combination Square

A combination square is such a ubiquitous tool that many woodworkers take it for granted and do not get the most from it.

Starrett Combination Squares and Accessories

Starrett Combination Squares and Accessories

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 interesting uses and accessories that will help you get the most out of your combination square. You can check out the full article here.

Some of you might be asking — ‘What is Fix.com?’

The semi-official marketing answer is:
“We are Fix.com, a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing you expert content to make your life easier. We’’ll cover everything in and around your home, like landscaping, gardening, outdoor activities, home maintenance and repairs. From products to projects, we’ll be providing you with a daily fix of content from our experienced and knowledgeable team of writers.”

My less official answer is:
It’s a new blog site with a distinctive visual style that caters to folks who are passionate about woodworking, cars, exercise, fishing, gardening, grilling and motorsports. It will be interesting to see where this site goes as they produce more content and get a wider base of readers.  If you have a few minutes, it’s worth checking out.

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

My trusty Starrett Combo Square in the limelight

I’ve got some more articles in the works with Fix.com and you’ll be able to check out those posts as they get linked to my Fix.com author page here.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Fix.com, Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Brickbats and Fireplaces

Have you ever wanted to build your own fireplace and beehive oven? It’s not for everyone, but it is something I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time. I’ve talked to a few masons, read all the new and old masonry books I could find, but still didn’t feel comfortable building my own.  I could not find a good source that showed the end to end process. I also don’t want to end up burning my house down.

Completed Fireplace and Oven

Completed Fireplace and Oven

To rectify this situation I figured I’d take a trip back in time. I just got back from spending a week at Historic Eastfield Village in Nassau NY (not far from Albany). If you’ve never been to Eastfield Village it’s a restored colonial village full of buildings and artifacts from the 18th and 19th century. What’s great about the village is that it is a hands on preservation laboratory where  you can stay for free in the tavern and live with all the antiques and artifacts that are normally behind glass in a museum setting. What’s the catch? Well you are living as they did in earlier times. There is no electricity or bathroom. You live by candlelight — make sure to bring white taper candles — and you can cook your meals in one of the many fireplaces and ovens. After a long day of working out in the village it was a lot of fun to have a meal in the tavern, have a drink and play some tavern games by candlelight. Some folks were carving wood, some we playing dominoes with Billy’s ‘Eastfield Rules’ and others were enjoying a good conversation with folks from another part of the country. Staying at Eastfield is always a memorable experience.

Tools Of The Masonry Trade

Tools Of The Masonry Trade

This 5 day class on building a traditional brick masonry fireplace and beehive oven was a special request from me and was filled with students and alumni from the North Bennet Street School’s Carpentry and Preservation Carpentry programs. We used all hand tools much as our forefathers would have used. Mortar mixed by hand with a hoe, bricks cut by hand with brick hammers — making some brickbats as we went, rubbing the face of a cut brick on a stone, setting and pointing with trowels and testing your work with levels. As I am predominantly a woodworker it was interesting to learn the skills required to tackle this project and as the week went on you could see the class pick up speed and some finesse. And I’m sure the next project we work on will be even better.

Group Shot of the Class

Group Shot of the Class

The class was taught by my friends Bill McMillen, his son John McMillen and Don Carpentier who is the founder of Eastfield Village — the village is set on his father’s ‘East Field’ and is Don’s long time home. Billy is also a master Tinsmith and preservationist having worked/taught/lead the preservation efforts at Old Richmond Town on Staten Island NY, taught at the Tinsmith Shop at Colonial Williamsburg and countless other venues. Don Carpentier moved and restored all the buildings in the village — an incredible undertaking and is also a well known historian and craftsmen having worked in wood, tinsmithing, blacksmithing and pottery. Don is also well known for his incredible Mochaware. John grew up around all this and is a skilled craftsman working in the NYC area.

If you’d like to see how we spent the week building these fireplaces, please check out the video below which walks you through the week at a high level (If you are reading my blog via email or some mobile phones you may have to click over to the actual post to watch the video):

You can also learn more about Eastfield Village’s current class schedule via their website here and the village in general via this nice video from Martha Stewart that you can watch here. If you can make the trip out to Eastfield Village for a class I highly encourage you to do so — it’s an experience you will never forget.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Eastfield Village, Masonry, Masonry Techniques, Portfolio | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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