Give Me Sass

There are a few other clever titles for this post, but I’ll let you come up with them. (Leave your thoughts in the comments below)

“The odoriferous sassafras, with its delicate green stem, its three-lobed leaf, tempting the travelers to bruise it, it sheds so rare a perfume on him, equal to all the spices of the East. Then its rare-tasting root bark, like nothing else, which I used to dig. The first navigators freighted their ships with it and deemed it worth its weight in gold.” Henry David Thoreau – journal entry, August 31, 1850.

Four weeks ago I was working on a kitchen remodel in Abington MA, we were just finishing up the cabinet install.

On Tuesday I heard a neighbor, a couple homes down, struggling tremendously all day with a chain saw. I decided to head over after work to see if I could be of any help since I know a thing or two about felling.

Knowing that there is Sassafras albidum in that neighborhood. I wanted to see if there was some being taken down. I saw a guy carving a sassafras spoon on an old Woodwright’s Shop and thought I might try carving a spoon, bowl, coat hook or some useful thing-ma-bob.

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Imagine my surprise to find five 12″ to 18″ diameter 40’to 50′ tall trees! Along with white oak, red oak, black birch, red maple and a fir. I haven’t seen any sassafras more than 6″ in diameter in these parts as of yet, though I know it can grow upwards of 65′ tall and 2′ to 3′ diameter.

After talking with my new best friend Mo and teaching him a bit on lumbering he said I could take anything I wanted. Wait… What?

OH BOY! AAAWWWW!(angels singing)

What do I do with this newfound richness? I certainly don’t have time to gather all that I want let alone time to put it all to use. And I have far to many  wood piles  strewn about the yard. I’ll have to give some away of course. Share the wealth, right?

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I emailed a handful of my friends that work wood the olden ways to ask if they’d want any of it. Sure enough.

Sassafras is a ring porous wood that cleaves quite well (when straight), it resists rot and insects as well.  “The durable and beautiful wood of sassafras plants has been used in shipbuilding and furniture-making in North America, in Asia, and in Europe (once Europeans were introduced to the plant).[29] Sassafras wood was also used by Native Americans in the southeastern United States as a fire-starter because of the flammability of its natural oils found within the wood and the leaves.” Wikipedia  It’s light weights, 31lbs/ft3 dry compared with red oak at 44lbs/ft3 dry, makes it easy to handle. It’s like “red-oak lite” to quote Rick McKee.

Rick said they (Plymouth CRAFT) could use it for the then upcoming hurdle making class he and Peter Follansbee  were teaching. So I said “Rad! If someone will come help me gather it into my truck I’ll drive it on down.”

So a week later Peter met me in Abington and we loaded up my GMC as high as would stay without tying. Then on Wednesday  I met Rick down at pinewoods camp and off loaded.

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A fraction of the sassafras plus a piece of white oak.

I wasn’t able to attend the class but was able to make it down for a couple hours on Sunday. The sassafras was splitting up beautifully! And quite a bit of it turned out to be very tightly curled, like fiddle back quality. Amazing stuff to work. If you haven’t worked fresh sassafras you need to just for the smell of it! The aroma is sweet and spicy, I had a strange craving for root beer and birch beer at the same time!image

So anyway the class was a great success and there was plenty of material to work, more than enough. I was able to get some back to add to the pile of sassafras logs I had brought home.

My plan, aside from the few spoons I’ve carved up this far, is to rive it all up into boards for some lawn furniture. We’ll see how long it will take for me to get around to that!

Trades

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John Everett Millais – Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter’s Shop’)

Trades

I want to be a carpenter, 

I want to work all day long in clean wood,

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Shaving it into little slivers

Which screw up into curls behind my plane;

Pounding square, black nails into white boards,

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With the claws of my hammer glistening 

Like the toungue of a snake.

I want to shingle a house, 

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sitting on the ridge-pole in a bright breeze.

I want to put the shingles on neatly,

Taking great care that each is directly between two others.

I want my hands to have the tang of wood: 

Spruce, Cedar, Cypress.

[I might add sassafras to the list]

I want to draw a line on a board with a flat pencil, 

And then saw along that line,

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With the sweet-smelling sawdust piling up in a yellow heap at my feet.

That is the life!

heigh-ho!

it is much easier than to write this poem.

 

-Amy Lowell

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A distant relative to me.

Ply-Able?

This summer I have been working on my father in law’s twelve foot skiff. It’s a nice little pond / lake boat that has been in my wife’s family for fifty years or so. It was originally used as a dinghy for her grandfather’s 34′ Webber’s Cove Downeaster. (Man, I wish this was still in the family)

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S L I M

While it has a fiberglass shell, there is a mix of plywood, oak and mahogany for structure; transom, knees, breast hook, and the rub rail. The transom is a mix of ply and mahogany with the exterior shell of fiberglass. The plywood makes up the bottom 1″x 12″ for the width of the boat, with the center being built out with a 1″thick x 12″wide x 15″long piece of mahogany to support a motor. Two elongated cyma-rectas, cut into the upper part of the transom, bring the 21″ height to 15″ for the motor mount.

Most of this was rotted out…

Once I started digging at the soft wood it became evident that water seeped in through cracks in the fiberglass and, not having a way back out, roted the wood from the inside out. As you can see in the first picture, I removed a significant amount of rot on the transom, the vertical piece of mahogany, most of the plywood and some of the upper portion of the transom needed to be replaced.

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I typically don’t like plywood. But in cases of structural necessity the right kind of plywood is perfect, think LVL (laminated veneer lumber). Most commercially manufactured plywoods have inferior wood selection and a lot of hollows under the outside veneers. I just don’t like it. Yet I need to replace some in this boat, what’ll I do?

I’ll make it!

Make plywood?..

Never tried that before, had never thought of it before talking with cabinetmaker John Cameron at a Lie Nielsen hand tool event at Phil Lowe’s school last year.  John’s plywood was made up of pine for the core and exotic veneers. He said he makes his own because of said imperfections and also for flatness or curvature.

I have a 2″x14″ (23.3 BF)that’s about ten feet long in quarter sawn white oak. Well most of it, it’s the center cut with the pith running through the middle of plank. I bought it for pennies at a local mill, because I saw the beauty in it. Thanks Dean.

You might ask why I would even consider using a premium ($7-$10 a board foot) piece of lumber in a place where it’s being covered up with fiberglass and epoxy then painted not to be seen again. Well that’s easy, it’s on hand, white oak is very decay resistant, it was (too) cheap and my wood hoarding has now spilled into my in-laws garage (sorry Love, it’s just two pieces).  

So here we go.

First rough out a piece slightly over sized and plane it flat and square an edge.

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Then rip out a few pieces a strong 1/4″ thickness then plane flat and joint the edges that mate up.

Mix up the Epoxy and slather it all over the place. Clamp up and wait.

Once cured up take it out of the clamps and knock off the cauls. Cut off the high spots with a chisel and sand it flat. And fit it into place.

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That was easy!

Now to fill in the rest with dimensional white oak. GRK makes some amazing screws, here I used their 5″ finish screw to add a bit more strength.

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Glue up the extra piece for the motor mount and cover with fiberglass mesh and epoxy.

I also rebuilt about half of the rub rail and put in new knees and a new breast hook. It’s all epoxied together and screwed with stainless steel screws.

Now, my father in law is a very patient man. I started this project in the spring and he just pulled the boat home mid September. I’m not sure if he would’ve gotten back this year had I not relinquished the painting to him. I tend to be very OCD when it comes to my work and this boat would have looked like a Ferrari without wheels had it been left for me.

In Need

In this current day, when one needs something one would go to an online shopping site and search until that something is found, bought, and delivered. Just a few years ago (ok a few decades), people were incredibly more resourceful when the need of something arose.

Say for example one needed a basket, or bowl, or a shelf, or cupboard, or a set of table and chairs, they would make one to suite their need. And if  a person needed tools of some sort, typically, they’d make them to fit the applications needed.

Sometimes I feel as though I was born in the wrong century. I long for a time when life was more bespoke, more genuine, more authentic, more everything except the ever convenient big box store termite barf that’s here today and quite literally gone tomorrow.

Thats some relatively deep stuff brought up by a really simple tool that I recently acquired.

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Not too flat anymore.

When I first saw it I heard and felt it instantly. It said “I am necessity. I am useful. I will remain.”

I’ve seen this before. Not this specific tool, yet something else made from an old bastard (That probably won’t get old).  I found a chisel made from an old bastard file in my Gramp’s garage up in Vermont. It was made into an inch and a half firmer, “foah [for] framin’ a small bahnn [barn] .” he said. I now have that chisel and have used it on a few special projects.

Are you ready?

Here it is…

A clever little cleaver…

It is beautifully crafted. Yet I believe it’s all utilitarian (aside the volute at the end). The sweeping tail on the butt end helps with leverage when riving.

When the grain is straight the split runs true.

I will be using this for riving pegs for various uses, making trenails, rake tines, and all sorts of shorts and smalls.

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Note the grain flow in the iron on the tail.

Lie-Nielsen sells a froe, though the business end is ground in a flat V shape. My friend Peter prefers the convexity of the prototype that Tom had sent him, yet they still opted for the flat V bevel. Peter says the convexity splits the fibers out better and more efficiently. And the V shape tends to bounce out when starting. After using both types of grinds myself, I must concur. The convex shape of the bevel is perfect.

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I do wish the temper of the steel was more consistent, as the spine has mushroomed over and the heal of the bevel (near the handle) is softer than the toe. But that’s something I will take care of at some point.

Here’s how it measures up.

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It really is a joy to use. It fits very comfortably in the hand and is very effective. I’m looking forward to the many years of service this piece of true utilitarianism will serve in my hands.

Brasso Twist & Shout

imageBelieve it or not, these are brass.

About a year or so ago I was blessed with being able to clean out my neighbors basement of a few machinists tools (more on the tools later) and a plethora of miscellaneous bits of hardware. Cut nails, clinch nails, rose headed cut nails, sprigs, brads, copper nails, nuts & bolts, screws with a few of the different head styles. These came in all sorts and sizes and metal types, close to 30 lbs.

I have recently been working on a side project for a friend’s daughter, a window seat with bookshelf under, a storage compartment behind, and crib mattress will fit on the top.

I need to add some cross strengtheners to the lid for the storage (because plywood isn’t awesome, not even the good stuff) to take out a bit of a bow. I choose a scrap of white oak because the elastic strength is the best of what different wood species I have in the shop at this time. I will glue and screw these two pieces to the underside of the plywood lid with opposing crowns.

I figuered I may as well make this look nice too. (Krenov style). So I chamfered the edges and ends of the two pieces and I want to use some fancier fasteners.

This is where the round head brass screws come in. Yet, they aren’t so nice looking, so this is where the Brasso comes in.

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Chuck the screw (not to tight as this may crimp the threads) into a drill and dip the head into the Brasso.

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Lightly pinch it in a rag and pull the trigger. After about ten or fifteen seconds stop and…

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Nice and shiny. Then use a tooth brush to clean out the slot. Just don’t use the tooth brush in your mouth again…

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Thanks Brasso. image

(I will post on the window seat after the install.)

Fun work

Fun. Work.

These words do end up in the same sentence occasionally.

This story goes:

It was the beginning of 2013 and I was called upon to help out a friend as an extra set of skilled hands for a kitchen and bath remodel. I was only supposed to be filling in for a few days, yet somehow before I knew it, three months had passed. He liked my work and lots of extras added up.

The home was built in the late 19th century in Newton MA. It sits on a snug little corner lot, a two story stucco square with hip roof with a couple of first floor projections and a small two story addition in the back. I came in during the end stage of the framing work. Once all the inspections were signed off and the subs finished the board and plaster,  painting and floors, it was time for the cabinet and trim install to begin. I really enjoy, and am most satisfied when doing finish work.

This particular home has tall baseboards with a complex Victorian cap (my coping saw got quite a workout), and a relatively simple two-piece crown molding. The doors and windows had build- ups of belly casing, a 5/4″ head and a header cap.  A new door and large window needed special attention due to how close they had to be. We added a tchotchke shelf above the two with larger crown and a separate egg and dart molding in red oak (I put on a natural stain and polyurethaned it to set out from the white crown and shelf).

I’ll move along now.

The lady of the house decided she didn’t like the new pedestal sink in the half bath. She thought a small vanity cabinet with a vessel sink would look better.

“I can build one.” I said. I am always saying that, though nonchalant about it. Yet, much to my surprise, she said “let’s do it.”

Awesome !

Mrs. Homeowner was originally from CA, thus I immediately thought of Longleaf lumber. I had recently been up that way to Anderson & McQuaid to pick up some millwork, and as I always do when I’m up there, I stopped in to Longleaf to see what was in stock. In the office they had an incredible slab of salvaged curly sequoia semperviren (redwood). So I took her up to see it.

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3″ thick, 37″wide, and 84″long. (I grabbed this photo from their site, I hope that’s ok).

As soon as she laid eyes on the slab she decided she had to have it! We were in and out of there in ten minutes.

Thus begins the flow of creativity in my mind.

I was certainly going to be using traditional joinery methods, raised panels surrounded by mortise and tenon (draw bored) frames, dovetailed rails between drawers, and so on.

I wanted some contrast between the panels and frames. Something not as linear as the curl in the redwood. (That sounds funny, I know).

Walnut? Too dark…

Mahogany? too close in color…

White/red oak? Nope, too strong a grain pattern …

Maple, perfect. Not curly (tiger). Birdseye? No, not this time… Burl? No I need something a bit less intense… Quilted? Perfect!  I went right over to Downes and Reader (which is closer to where I live than Anderson & McQuaid) to grab a few sticks.

And so, after conceptualizing and drafting, figuring time and material costs, writing up the contract and recieving a go ahead signature, I began processing the stock:

First thing I noticed in the processing of the redwood is that if I looked at it wrong it seemed to dent. I looked it up on the Wood Database and found that the Janka rating, which comes to about 450 lbf on the scale, is about 100lbf less than the average 2″x 4″ (eastern white pine) construction lumber.

When I cut the top, I centered the curl and live edge to frame the hand hammered copper sink. After, I started roughing out all of the parts for stiles and rails from more of the redwood slab and brought the maple to rough size too. I left things a sixteenth of an inch thicker and about a half inch longer. Then I let everything sit for a weekend, stickered and out of the way.

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Planing to thickness and centering the curl and live edge
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Book matching the panels

After bringing everything to finished dimensions, I started laying it out with an eye towards grain  flow. Once laid out, I began the joinery process. I cut the mortises first, then grooves, and then the tenons to fit the mortises. Then I dry fit the stiles and rails together to make sure things were flat and square. While doing this, I used my crosscut back saw to kerf in a saw plate width relief on the back shoulder of the rail. This allows the front of the joint to pull really tight.

After dry fitting the frames I was able to ascertain the exact measurements for the panels and cut them to size and cut (raised) the panels with a nice cove. Then I fit everything together again. Wow! Working with this wood really shows me the beauty that God has created for us.

Once the dry fit was accomplished and all was tried and true, I drilled the holes for drawing the frame tight. Taken apart, I bored the mortises first, then inserted the tenons in their respective homes, marked, removed, and bored a strong 1/32″ towards the shoulder. After re-assembly, I drove in maple pegs that I had riven out of a straight grained piece. This makes for an incredibly strong and tight joint. Draw boring is an ancient technique in both furniture and timber building.

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After building the two sides (it’s installed in a corner) I built an interior carcass to house the dovetailed drawers with soft close slides. Two sides, a bottom (3/4″ maple ply), two cleats for the top and three cleats for the back (3/4″ maple ply by 3-1/2″.) I used a dado construction method I had learned from cabinetmaker Jim Weston (write up to come) to assemble the carcass. All of the fasteners and misc. pieces of construction hardware I used were stainless steel. I also added a toe kick that recessed in on both the front and side of the vanity to stop dust from getting too far in.

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I decided to apply three coats of teak oil to add to its warmth, then handed it off to Tom Belyea of Alden Wythe finishing for conversion varnish. (I was not very experienced with the finishing process at the time.) The finish made all of the beautiful characteristics of the grain really pop.

The knobs are a crystal oval shape with oil rubbed bronze settings that match the door knobs in the home. The case is topped off with a solid 1/4″ hand hammered copper vessel by Native Trails. And the faucet is a solid brass single from Newport Brass.

Installation went quite well, aside from waiting for the plumber…

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I enjoyed this project immensely, and really began to understand the process of being a cabinetmaker. Concept, design, problem solving, construction, finish, and installation. I hope to be blessed with more of this kind of work; it’s really fun for me.

 

 

 

A Craft Linking Thought, Knowledge and Action

Lost Art Press

'Deduction' (Bruges, 1467-1468), University of Cambridge Nn.3.2 ‘Deduction’ (Bruges, 1467-1468), University of Cambridge Nn.3.2

Sometime between 1463-1464 George Chastellain, Jean de Montferrant and Jean Robertet exchanged poems and epistles that eventually became a manuscript titled, ‘Les Douze Dames de Rhétorique’ (The Twelve Ladies of Rhetoric). Each branch of rhetoric features a poem and the image of a women symbolizing the branch.

The women symbolizing Deduction is shown in a carpenter’s workshop and in the background is a construction site. With her hair covered and wearing an apron Deduction is dressed as a women that would be found helping out in the family workshop. In her role of explaining her branch of rhetoric and the scene in which she is set, she points to her head with one hand while holding a set of tools (square, dividers, plumb) in the other hand.

In her poem she explains: “Without a doubt I arrive late and I am slow to…

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