Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year to you all.

And what’s Christmas without a few Angels?

Winter Again

Although you’d hardly think so where I live, we are moving into winter again. Not so in Buffalo. Here, today, it was warm and breezy. I worked on a roof repair until dark, ate dinner, and plugged in the lights in my shelter so I could work on some spoons while i had the weather for it. Tomorrow will be another nice day in the Mid-Atlantic; snow on Wednesday.
As last year, I have managed to get some late cut green wood to work with. Hoping it doesn’t freeze like last year and get ruined before I can get to it. The cherry will go to spoons and spatulas. The white oak will go for bowl and plate work, I hope. I rebuilt my lathe to accommodate larger diameters but I have not yet developed a tool rest.

Cherry White Oak

So, this last week was sort of interesting. Along with the very interesting greenwood work I do, I also do handyman stuff involving repairs to older houses and furniture. I have been very busy this late winter and spring and have accumulated a pick-up truck load of debris as well as a shop floor of wood chips, rippings, and shavings. Monday and Tuesday I set about cleaning up the shop, an area in the back of a local barn I rent from some friends of mine. I took about ¼ ton of stuff to the transfer station which included a large bag of wet sawdust and planer chips. Usually I would use the chips for garden fill but this had some salt-treated stuff in it. Otherwise, there was roofing materials and rotten trim from a cornice among other things. I swept and vacuumed and tidied and tossed. Now I can move around and find things again. I have a deal with the folks I rent from; build a replacement window sash for the barn in exchange for rent. I gave them a very good price and the work will ease my cash flow a little. Building sash is not a regular thing for me so this is partly tuition work on my part. It is one thing to have a set of skills developed by repetition; quite another to turn a skill to a new or different purpose/task. I have built my first shooting block, although it works as well as a sawing guide and revisited sharpening. I have decided that sharpening for the shop can have very different methods and means than it does for the work I do at events. Events’ sharpening adequate to working with green materials is different than shop sharpening for seasoned wood. Also, at events, I need to represent historical practices as much as I can. So, I’m back to using wet/dry abrasive paper in extremely fine grits. I also have a nice little polished marble slab to use as a substrate, little being the necessity here. All in all, this past week has been about me for a while. I cleaned up my work space. I did work I wanted, as well as needed, to do and I honed some skills. This next week will complete my “time off” and transition back into real earning work again. Yes, I shouldn’t let the rubbish pile up so much and I need to manage my time more efficiently. Right.  Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.

All day?

We do as many heritage events as we can throughout the year.  These generally take place at historical sites and are populated by interpreters in costume with a somewhat scripted presentation of life in Colonial America as well as live demonstrations of colonial trade work.  Questions find answers about what it was like to live without the internet, automobiles, and instant coffee and how things got done with out electric power.
I often get asked about whether the pole lathe is hard work; yes.  How long does it take to make something; about 20 minutes to half an hour at home (where I don’t have to answer questions about what I am doing) but longer at an event.  This is all said in good humor and as part of what we do to expose folks to the real-life experiences of our fore fathers.  We are under no obligation to produce much and in the meantime, anything that does get made becomes future inventory, so the time is well used in any case.
In the late 19th century, pole turners needed to produce a gross, 144, of turned chair parts.  These could be legs, arm posts, or stretchers.  Oh, and this needed to be done daily, as in a day’s work.  This included sawing, splitting, axing, and shaving to near round even before the lathe work was gotten to.  And that day was from the time in the morning that the sun provided enough light so you could see what you were doing until the sun got low enough in the evening so you couldn’t see what you were doing.  None of that 9 to 5 stuff.  I’m sure most people have heard the saying “Make hay while the sun is shining”.  Before electricity made light somewhat cheaper and easier, not to mention safer, the phrase could just as easily been applied to any trade; make ______ while the sun is shining (fill in the blank with the appropriate trade product); all day long.
Eventually, the industrial revolution caught up even the work pole turners were doing, relegating yet another segment of the working population to become a part of its main by-product; unemployment.  Of course the turners were quite lucky in that hand turning did survive the transition to powered assembly-line production, for a while.  Now, along with 8 hour days, coffee breaks and paid holidays, turners have the opportunity, professionally or as a hobby, to simply flip the switch and get professional results; first time and every time.  How fulfilling.  All day.

It’s been too long since I posted anything and I apologize for my absence. We have been very busy this Spring and I have a few insights from the people we met at events.

A sharp tool is a safer tool. Many have heard and repeated this phrase in one form or another. What I have written here is the accurate version. The difference, that makes these words true or untrue is whether the letter “r” is used at the end of s-a-f-e. A sharp tool is easier (not easy) to control as it requires less force to make it work. Herein is the key; control.
An sharp tool is not a safe tool. A sharp tool is more efficient, accurate, and satisfying to use than a dull tool. Again, it is also safer. In particular, I have in mind a drawknife with regard to safety, but any tool with an unguarded cutting edge (chisels and carving tools, saws, chopping tools etc.) should be thought of in these terms. The drawknife is about as potentially dangerous as any tool in the kit. It is used by pulling it toward your torso with no protection other than the limited range of motion as one set of muscles transfers movement to another. I’m sure someone could restrain this tool with some sort of halter or perhaps a dowel sticking out of the work holder, but this is only a part of the problem.
Those of us who are blessed with an un-erring and unperturbed ability to focus on the task at hand and to be fully aware of our surroundings don’t have the problems that come from not having these personal traits. I, for one, am a little high-strung, creatively vigorous, and just plain careless. These traits are both a part of my nature and a result of being self-taught and somewhat undisciplined. Therefore, tools are not just dangerous when they are being used, but also when they are being picked up and put down. And while this danger is to myself for the most part, account must be given for the presence of others as co-workers or spectators. For instance, after finishing a particular activity, I have seen a tool swung away from the work only to wallop a by-stander who was too close or in a “blind spot” with regard to the worker; this is often the case when allowing children to make use of tools during a public demonstration/event. Siblings and other peers who are anxious to have a go will often crowd in, waiting for their turn. Then there is the transfer of control of the tool from one to another, which can be a very dodgy time. I, and those who demonstrate with me, both give and receive the tool (a spoke shave in the case of children and other accomplices of un-known skill). With each exchange we are also able to reiterate the instructions for using the tool.
In any case, accidents happen. This brings us to yet another aspect of safety; minimizing consequent damage. A quick, clean slice is the best sort of wound to suffer. It is the intent of a good surgeon to make such incisions as part of their work. Such a cut causes minimum damage and heals more readily without scarring than a slashing swipe from a blunt or jagged edge.
Again, with more force/strength needed to make a dull tool work, less control results. The material being worked may suddenly break apart at an unexpected moment, a point where too much effort is given to removing wood and there is no time to counteract for restraint once the wood “lets go”. Also, the longer one works with a dull tool, the more fatigue sets in and reduces the ability to concentrate and therefore to control.
So, develop safe and safer work habits, one of which should be to keep your tools sharp. Sharpening is another topic altogether.

Ah Spring

water bulge

So, you might recognise my work shelter and the pole lathe. It rained much this weekend. Put the 2 together and you get? Yeah, that’s water, about 30 gallons,that got caught in the tarp and that’s a green hose to syphon it out; took about 45 minutes. Good tarp, strong and water proof; one of those with silver on one side and brown on the other. Don’t try this with one of those blue things. In fact, don’t try this at all.


The new year is here. I’d like to take a little of that time to say thanks to those of you who have visited my page over the previous year. I hope you have found something interesting and even informative or useful. It is very gratifying to see the comments as well as the feed-back information I get every week. People from all over the world have found my pictures and musings about woodworking. This is pretty astonishing that I have been able to be a part of the goings-on of so many. Here again I find a great irony that I write about basically primitive hand tools and share this with others using so advanced a form of communication. Strange bed-fellows? Nah. Just the way it is.
Anyway, I hope to continue posting even more of these curious thoughts. I also hope that you will, in your way, have a good, prosperous, and satisfying new year.
Thanks again.