Posts Tagged ‘Going with the Grain’

Back in the saddle

Nearly 5 months since I ran my last course at Brookhouse Wood, today I kicked off the 2016 programme with the start of a 5-day chair-making course for Rhys and Mandy from The Ruskin Mill Organisation.

Rhys & Mandy with their green ash

The start of two chairs

To give them the experience of different kinds of ash wood, we started with two very different logs. On the left is a log from nearby Netherwood, planted by The Woodland Trust to commemorate the turn of the millennium.

On the right is a section from the tree from a Herefordshire estate that I used for making a set of chairs in December. (Also in the top photo are some leftovers from making a handle for a maul).

We started by cleaving the spindles from the Netherwood log and then cleft and shaped the crest and cross-rail to complete the components for the back panel for the chair. (You can see the top of Josh’s chair at the bottom of the pic, which we are using as the model)

P1060834

Mandy displaying the components for the back panel.

Just before lunch we started on the other log (slower grown but beautifully straight) to cleave two pairs of back legs, which they then shaved, sitting astride their shaving-horses in the glorious spring sunshine.

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Back leg production underway.

By mid-afternoon the legs, the crest and the cross-rail went into the steam box, while Mandy & Rhys started shaping some rungs. After an hours steaming we carried out the bending then stacked the fruits of the day’s work into the new drying cabinet. (Also some crumpled sheets of newspaper drying out having been used to clean the workshop windows yesterday)

The drying cabinet in action

With a day’s non-stop sunshine on the solar panels generating over 12 kwh of electricity, I reckoned that would just about source the power for an hour’s wallpaper stripper (for the steam) plus 10 hours of the fan-heater running at moderate heat – thus saving quite a lot of firewood and fire stoking. This is still very experimental but it reached about 36 degrees with a relative humidity of 20% and a brisk circulation of air. We’ll see tomorrow how it has worked.

Spare ribs

Sunshine at last!!

After 4 days of dismal, damp weather, yesterday (Wednesday) we had a warm, sunny afternoon and I was able to take a few more photos of my chair-making. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I had assembled a chair each day.Three Chairs

Because they are made with very tight joints, it is a bit tricky squeezing the frames together single handed, having to hold the chair and the rung, while having to wind the handle on the sash clamp. On the courses we always have at least two people (if not three) working together on this operation. On the chairs that I make for sale, I like all the components to be as delicate as possible, so there is a likelihood of the rungs flexing while being squeezed into place, especially with the long slender front rungs. If they have a natural curve, then that just adds to the difficulty. For those of you who are planning to make chairs like these, I suggest making the front rungs no less than 18mm diameter in the centre, tapering down to the 16mm tenon at each end.

Nearly straight rungs

Side rungs for three chairs

I had made some spare side rungs, some of which had quite distinct curves along their length but I selected the straightest ones in order to reduce their flexing during assembly. They still have enough inherent character to distinguish them quite clearly from lathe turned produce.

Spare ribs

Having assembled all six back panels last week, I was intrigued by their appearance as they lay in the drying rack and realised that they reminded me of a rack of spare ribs. It is this lightness and flexibility combined with the elastic strength of good ash timber that makes these chairs far and away my favourite chair to produce. I spent a happy 15 minutes trying to capture this feeling by photographing them in sunshine on our trampoline.

Spare ribs in the sunshine3 racks of spare ribs

These cross rails are too delicate to be squeezed in with the usual extra-large tenons, so by running the 9/16″ (14.3mm) tenon cutter over them before assembly, they just squeeze perfectly into their 14mm holes.

 

 

Putting it all together

Saturday 12th was a day off but I was back in the workshop again today (Sun 14th) – the other side of the coin, when running your own business. The first thing was to drill all the mortices in one of the side panels. This was pretty much by the book ‘Going with the Grain’, lifting the back of the chair by 5cm, marking out where to drill, then gripping the frame to the bench. Having reflected on my comment about it being too scary to do all the drilling with a Forstner bit, I tried it on a scrap piece and it seemed OK, so I thought I’d try it for real today. It was no great ordeal – it burned the wood a little where the depth stop rubbed but that could easily be shaved off. I’ve laid out all the tools that were needed for this particular process.

Drilling into one of the side panels

Here are the stages in creating the mortice for the crest at the top of the back leg.

The lump of wood with a big nail in it is a ‘centre finder’, which when used with the sliding bevel (on the right) marks a point showing where to drill the angled holes. The little thing between them is the same 14mm bundle of nails that I used for marking the mortices for the laths  a few days ago. Tapping this little bundle on top of the nail hole shows where to drill the two holes of the mortice. I used the 12mm chisel to clean out the mortice after the 2 holes had been drilled. It looks a mess here but a few strokes with a spokeshave cleans it all up nicely.

Marking out an eliptical hole for the F-clamp

When drilling the second panel, I decided to make a new hole in the bench to enable a clamp to grip the front legs to the bench. I like making it an ellipse, which is very easy to do with a couple of nails and a short length of string. I could probably calculate exactly where to put the nails and how long the string should be but I went for trial and error. The first attempt was too small for the clamp but the second attempt was fine. I could have made it more elliptical by shortening the length of string. (See the new hole in the pics below)

 

I thought it worth using the dummy method described in my book ‘Living Wood’ to perform a trial assembly with dummies to take the place of the front and back rails and rungs – the same length but smaller tenons (so that they can be easily removed again). The frame is held together with bungee cord, so that I can measure the lengths for the cross rail and the crest. I had made the crests over-length (just in case) so I cut them shorter according to the lengths given in the book – which was reassuring.

After spending some time shaving and sanding all the components, I then squeezed it all together and fitted a couple of 5.5mm square walnut pins into 6mm holes at the top to hold the crest in place. (The little grey pad, bottom right is one of the wonderful Abranet pads for sanding everything).

Not counting the two walnut pins, that’s 22 components and 36 holes to create a remarkably robust structure out of very little wood but a lot of time and effort.

I just need to trim the tops and bottoms of the legs before oiling the frame and weaving the seat but I’ll hope to assemble the other 5 chairs first.

 

 

 

 

Making chair legs

Yesterday I had a lovely day outside my workshop starting to make use of the ash logs I collected in the rain a few weeks ago making things out of trees. I had stacked the logs carefully as they had come out of the tree trunk.

an ash tree stacked under cover.

an ash tree stacked under cover.

I barrowed one of the sections from the best section together with a section from the butt section up to my cleaving brake outside the workshop. (In fact I didn’t get round to using the butt section).

 2 sections in the barrow

Using a selection of three froes, I cleft the section to yield the material for 6 long legs plus lots of other bits. It was surprisingly sensitive to pressure from the froe, which is why I used the micro froe for the later stages, so that the split wouldn’t run too far along the log before I could control it’s direction.

cleft in half with very big froe Starting to cleave the second halfThe blanks for 6 legs plus 5 other lengthsP1060127

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four of the legs came from just under the bark and had perfect grain. The other pair were from the inner section and had a slight wiggle near one end so I cut them shorter………..and the sun came out – wonderful! I made a peg to hold the ‘curtain ring’ which is the gauge to determine a uniform thickness for the leg.

 

 

 

 

Sunshine at last a curtain ring peg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However perfect the grain may appear, it is never going to be perfectly straight, which is why the process of cleaving and shaving has the advantage over sawing and turning to maximise the strength of the fibres running along the whole length of the leg.

wood is never dead straight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the other 5 lengths I was able to make 6 front seat rails and 16 laths (to be bent in the next day or so at the same time as the legs.

16 back laths 6 front seat rails

 

 

 

 

 

I also managed to make a couple of crests and a back seat-rail out of the remainder as well as 2 large tubs of kindling and a few little bits of firewood but it was to dark to get a pic by then.

A wonderful way to spend a relatively benign December day.

Mike’s final woodland courses

The extra course in September, from 14-19th has now fully booked but we sometimes get cancellations a month or so before the start of a course, so if you wish to take part in a course this August or September, don’t be afraid to send us and e-mail to see if any places have arisen – abbott@living-wood.co.uk.

If you’d like to be one of the first to attend our small-scale courses at Greenwood Cottage next summer you can see the first few dates on the previous blog. We plan to add more dates for next summer, once we have finished the courses this September.

I’m back from the woods

Hello again followers! 6 months have elapsed since my last entry. Mostly very pleasant months, lost in the woods with a flow of really great people coming to spend a week, away from their normal lives. With the help of some enthusiastic young assistants, Stephen, JoJo, Johnny, James, Jo, Sharyn and Rhun, we had yet another great summer giving a couple of dozen ash trees a whole new life in the form of some beautiful chairs. In between courses, I was working hard on new editions of both my current books, Living Wood and Going with the Grain, both of which are now available, just in time for you to give copies to your friends and relatives for Christmas.Image

I happened to be in the office when a journalist phoned to ask me about ash trees and chair-making but was taken aback when the article was published a week before it was due.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/greenproperty/10409500/Eco-living-we-must-embrace-our-ash-trees.html

I’m afraid that when the article came out, the website hadn’t been updated since July but we now have the dates for 2014 posted for you all to find a suitable date.


Halloween Tales from the Wild Wood

As I understand it, Halloween marks the pagan new year – the harvest is in and nature starts its well earned rest until the spring, making a good marker for the start of my winter routine.  By now I hope to have all the apples picked, the firewood stacked, a bag of spuds in the larder and a full gas bottle outside the kitchen – ready for whatever the winter can throw at us. With half -term over we can snuggle into our normal winter routine – Tamsin working away in her studio producing stained glass panels for the forthcoming Hereford Contemporary Craft Fair, while I spend the mornings working on the revised book, and the afternoons cutting firewood, picking our prolific autumn raspberries, cooking apple crumbles, shopping and relishing many more family activities (such as driving our teenage children the length and breadth of East Herefordshire).

As last winter was drawing to a close, I received a phone call from a TV researcher asking if I would be interested in taking part in a TV programme, Tales from the Wild Wood. As part of a woodland restoration project, they were going to fell an ash tree, which they wanted to convert into furniture. Of course I told them I was the man for the job and I could bring a shaving horse with a few simple tools and convert it on the spot to make the parts for a chair. I posted them a copy of my chair-making book, Going with the Grain and looked forward to taking part in the project. A few days later we spoke again and they had already decided that the tree would be planked in a sawmill, and they wouldn’t require my input. Ce est la vie!

I must somehow have been tuned into the current zeitgeist and spent a fair chunk of the summer, (when not running courses) in building a shed in the garden centred around two splendid ash crucks and a load of milled Western red cedar. Last week, we spent a day fixing all the cladding, so as a farewell to the summer, I spent Halloween morning preparing kindling wood out of the last remains of the cedar planks. A potential candidate for ‘George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces’ had we known, the cruck room has already been used as accommodation for at least six friends and family over the last few months as well as being a superb location for my after-lunch 20-minute nap (uninterrupted by phone calls from India asking to speak to Mr aBott). 

Instead of indulging in trick or treat, I spent Halloween evening ferrying Dougal back from his break-dance class, an hour or so before collecting Nettie from helping out with the Class 7 Halloween disco. I rushed back in time to catch 20 minutes of ‘Tales from the Wild Wood’ (8.30 on BBC4) but had missed the felling of the ash tree. However I was in time to see three respected woodworkers selecting their required logs, which were by now lying on the woodland floor. When I saw furniture-maker David Colwell describing the ideal log for his elegant and efficient steam-bent chairs, I didn’t feel so bad that I had missed out on the chance of another ’10 minutes of fame’. (It is exactly three years since I took part in the filming of Monty Don’s Mastercrafts, which brought in a great deal of custom for my courses). I was also astonished by John with his large-scale turnery, who says he has to buy most of his ash from abroad. I shared in Ralph’s disbelief at Rob Penn’s ignorance of the value of a chunk of burr, which could have been made into some beautiful bowls instead of being chopped for firewood. Still, life is all about learning, and Rob is taking it all on board and sharing it readily with anyone who may be watching the programme. It does however seem a shame that, as with Kevin McCloud’s shed building, the opportunity had been missed to show some really informative AND visually entertaining green wood skills. Never mind – it will happen another time.

Anyway, a few days ago we hooked up to Airband high speed wireless broadband, which has been received with great delight by Tamsin and Dougal, both astonished by the up-and download speeds. Today I hope to use i-player to see Rob felling his ash tree, wondering if in ten years time this will prove to be a valuable piece of archive footage of the days when ash trees abounded freely in British woodlands before the devastation of Chalara dieback. Or will this latest plague turn out to be yet another media frenzy, this time probably whipped up  by the apparent destruction of 90% of Denmark’s ash trees by the disease. Only time will tell. From a purely selfish point of view, if this were to happen in Britain, there should still be enough good ash to enable 400 more chairs to be made over my 5 remaining years of chair-making courses. As somebody pointed out, this scare might have the positive effect of increasing the public’s awareness of this wonderful resource which is so much taken for granted by modern society. Always look on the bight side, eh!