My how time flies by! We have just completed our ninth week of the Craftsman Program and students are nearing the completion of their fundamental skills before moving onto our first project. Since our last newsletter, students have been busy completing a number of exercises.
After covering the “sport” (as one of our students refers to it) of free hand mortising, students had the opportunity to put this and other skills previously covered to use making a set of sawhorses from hard maple. With through and wedged mortise and tenon construction, hand planed surfaces, and friendly edges and corners, these sawhorses are as beautiful as they are practical.
With this exercise underway, students were introduced to tool making. Each student had the opportunity to make at least one, more often than not several, chisels using old files. The file is first softened, a process known as “annealing”. The file is then shaped and an initial flattening of the back is completed. The tool is then hardened, tempered, and honed before a wooden handle is attached and shaped. We then moved onto dovetailing where the students were able to put some of these tools to use. This inevitably leads to more tool making.
Students were shown the process of cutting through and half lapped dovetails and were given the opportunity to practice these skills before moving onto drawer making and fitting.
Mark Safioles, a local woodworker who has taken summer programming at the College of the Redwoods, made our wall hung tool cabinets with a small drawer pocket with let go. That is, the pocket is tapered and slightly wider at the back than at the front
Students each made a drawer with a solid fielded panel bottom, fit the drawer to the pocket, carved a pull, and attached the pull with through and wedged mortise and tenon. When the drawer was carefully fitted, a slight taper was planed into the sides (front to back) so when removing the drawer from the pocket, the drawer gets snug just before it reaches the end of its run. When closing, the piston fit air cushions the final run of the drawer just before it reaches the small wooden stop carefully fitted behind the drawer front. Drawer fitting requires sharp tools and patience. The difference between a sweet fit and a sloppy fit can be the matter of only a few fine shavings. Strategies were shown to compensate for a fit that just gets away. Mistakes happen, and learning to deal with these hurdles only makes us better craftsman. In the end, eleven finely fitted drawers will serve to hold odds and ends while at the school. And more importantly, these drawers will serve as a reference when making drawers in their projects – here at the school and in years to come!
In preparation for coopering, which will be covered next week, students learned the process of making a coopering, or round bottom plane. The school sourced out some beautiful cocobolo wood that, unfortunately, was not dry enough for making planes. Rather than finding another source, the wood was cut slightly oversized and a make shift low-tech kiln was constructed. Over a period of a week, we watched the moisture content drop slowly and steadily until acceptable levels were reached
The wood behaved well and moved very little. Robert shared with the class the traditional method of making these planes before demonstrating a method he developed since he began teaching.
During this time, students made wooden spokeshaves using Hock low angle irons. These tools do not replace standard angle spoke shaves but in Robert’s opinion are unmatched when used on end grain or on softer woods. This process helps develop accurate working habits and familiarity to the horizontal boring machine and drill press. Students were also shown the process of making cap irons. With the fine quality irons produced by Ron Hock today, this exercise was one of interest more than practicality. But nonetheless it presents other possibilities that can be used when standard irons sizes or radiuses are not appropriate for the work being made.
Plane and tool making will be an ongoing activity throughout the year. Already several planes have been made including smoother, Jointer, Scraper, compass, and spoon bottom. One student has even undertaken a plane less than two inches long for detail work. He will have to make an iron and cap iron of less than half an inch in width for this plane. This coming week, chair scrapes will be made. Chair scrapes can be used in shaping and surface preparation of even the most difficult woods. As the students will be making brass knife and “L“ hinges for their projects, this exercise also serves as an introduction to working with brass.
Doweling was introduced using a simple low-tech method that provides the maker another effective way of joining both solid and veneered components. Each student made a small doweled exercise cabinet of poplar that will receive a frame and panel back to be covered early next week. The use and fitting of partitions will also be covered in the coming days
Thanks giving supper was held at the Van Norman’s, where a crowd of over more than twenty students, their families, and friends gathered to share wonderful food and conversation. Michael Mulrooney turned thirty-nine on the 20th of October. As is tradition, it was the previous birthday person’s responsibility to provide the cake. Jason made a cake in the shape of a wooden hand plane, including milk chocolate cross pin and iron, white chocolate cape iron, and orange peel shavings. Jason’s skills clearly extend beyond the craft of woodworking and Michael has a tough act to follow
Elephants were held on Fridays, as is tradition. Pete and Maura held the weekly gathering at their beautiful little cottage, where a few perfect boards were burnt in celebration. Friends of the school, Martin and Marney (of the Back Packers B&B) hosted a special Elephants at their home where we were joined by two classmates of Robert’s from the College of the Redwoods and their families who also stayed at the B&B. Steve Skonieczny and Carl Zytowski, both of Seattle, are both very fine craftsmen who display their work at the Northwest Furniture Gallery, where our year-end show will take place on May 4-8, 2006(details to follow). Other venues for our weekly Elephants gathering included the common house of Roberts Creek co-housing – Gary and Stacia Kent hosted once, as did Caitlin and her partner Ellen, and their young family.
Mary Boulding, a friend of the school, teaches Shiatsu here in Roberts Creek. She offered our staff and students a treatment on one Friday afternoon – just another way that the Roberts Creek community has embraced our school and we are most grateful for their support!
This month we began “walk-arounds” which, once projects are underway, will become a weekly activity. This month Cody Bradford, one of our Resident Bench Craftsmen, shared with the class his pear, apple, satin walnut, and shoji wall cabinet. Cody began by showing us his sketches, the mockup, and then the actual piece underway. The cabinet is full of lovely curves and fine details and will be presented at our first faculty-student show and open house on January 28, 2006.The students found Cody’s presentation very thorough and worthwhile. Pete Heilman, our other Resident Bench Craftsman from New York, shared with us the alter he is making which will soon to have a home in a local church
Pete’s selection of material and “no compromise” approach to the piece is sure to bring him a number of commissions – a large piece executed very well.
The class was treated to a Roberts Creek Co-Housing shop tour where Gary Kent is in the midst of completing a small cherry table and the mockup of a cabinet being made for the school gallery. Also on hand was a large Tansu of yellow cedar recently shown at the BC Wood Coop gallery on Granville Island. In a little more than a week, Robert will kick off first projects with a slide show and talk about his Red Cabruva cabinet currently underway. The door has been made and fit and curved front drawers are underway. Once complete, he will fit the back before moving onto the stand to be made of doussie. The parts for the stand were cut oversized and have been cut for a few months now so that they have time to relax.
Our school took part in the annual Surrey Wood Show the weekend of the October 23rd. Michael Mulrooney and Pete Heilman set the show up and represented Inside Passage on Friday and Saturday. They were joined by Gary Kent on Saturday afternoon. Robert joined Gary for the Sunday. We are grateful to all who assisted in making the show such a success! A special thanks to Bruce and Nicole who stayed around to help Robert take down the booth, enabling him to get home in time for supper with the kids.