Thursday, 9 May 2019

Rustic Stools

I’m currently preparing a course making post and rung stools inspired by Mike Abbott’s book Going With the Grain. These stools are delightful and a great introduction to riving and shaving green wood as well as greenwood joinery. I’m trying to condense it down to a one day course, but I think that might be a bit ambitious. One of the problems here is that the rungs would ideally be dried out overnight before doing the joinery. This means that the mortice in the, still green, legs will shrink slightly as they dry creating a very tight joint with the dried out tenons. If the rungs are not dry enough then the tenons will shrink too and the joint could become loose. I’m experimenting with drying the rungs out in the oven and hoping that the time it takes to make the legs (and to eat lunch) will be enough to bring the moisture content down sufficiently.

One of the things I love about this kind of stool is that you can get pleasing results with less than ideal wood. Most of my wood is salvaged/saved from the tree surgeons chipper. This means that more often than not it has been cut down from an urban setting where it wasn’t competing for light and is therefore not very straight. This can mean bendy grain and lots of knots, which is not really ideal for furniture making.

With this kind of stool it doesn’t really matter, in fact I think it adds to its charm. Wonky legs? Fine. Included knots? Not a problem. These are a great example of functional, user made furniture. Furniture of necessity.

These stools are currently being tested rigorously by my three boys. Sometimes they sit on them, but more often they are launch pads for their indoor acrobatics or construction elements for their dens. They are definitely proving to be functional, but they are also beautiful. Their imperfections make them lively and unique and remind us of the nature of natural materials.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Heavy Metal

Most people in the Green woodworking scene will be familiar with the work of Peter Follansbee. If you're not aware of Peter's work then stop reading this immediately and head over to Peter's blog, you  won't regret it (but you might not come back here for a while).

Peter Follansbee's Side Axe

Peter's side-axe is legendary. It's an important tool for his prep work and unfortunately 'they don't make 'em like they used to.' Peter regularly gets questions about his axe and he has produced this video to show some of the possible alternatives.

One day whilst trawling a popular online auction site I came across a vintage side-axe that looked like it might be perfect for this kind of work. It was going at a reasonable price, so I took a chance and bought it. When it arrived I quickly realised that I had made an error. The shape of the axe was perfect. The edge geometry was exactly what I was looking for. The problem was that it was huge. I had neglected to look at the weight of the axe on it's description. The heaviest axe that I use regularly is the Gransfors Swedish Carving axe which weighs 1kg. Peter's is a bit heavier at about 1.6, but this one  weighs in at a whopping 2.3kg. This axe is HEAVY!

However all is not lost.
A few years ago I suffered from a bout of tennis elbow. Throwing an axe around all day can be quite a hard physical work out and I assumed that because I don't do this full time I had pushed myself too hard. That year whilst at Spoonfest I attended a talk by Terence McSweeney, green woodworker and professional Osteopath. One of the questions that was put to him was how to avoid tennis elbow (it seems that this was more common than I thought even among full time woodworkers). Terence's answer was that the problem was probably that their axes were too heavy (cue gasps from several affronted axe wielding spoon carvers). He explained that our bodies are not designed to work at full capacity for extended periods of time and therefore if we are using our heaviest axes all day, then our arms are under a lot of strain. What Terence suggested was that we build up our strength by sing a heavier axe for a short period and then when we return to or regular axe we are not working at full capacity.

So this has become my workout axe.

Ironically this axe used to belong to Terence McSweeney. If he was using it for similar purposes, then the axe that he has now worked up to must be a beast.

Note how the back of the axe is slightly convex so that the edges don't bite into the wood