Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some Exciting Scaffolding

This house that I've been working on the last two months was originally built in 1769.  The roof was all saggy and sloped and there were ice dam issues last winter.  As we pulled off the shingles (to keep the weight down on the 6x6 rafters joined at the peak with only pegged bridle joints, joined to the sill with only a step lap and a peg) we discovered that whomever re-roofed this last (sometime in the last 20 years I believe, shortly before the current owners moved in) they didn't even use tar paper.  Ice dam issues are really an issue that comes from keeping warm air from getting to the surface of the roof, melting the snow, and letting it run down to the gutter where it re-freezes into ice, building up and working under the shingles, melting again and dripping into the house.  So if you have an ice dam, step one is to add more insulation and air-blocking between the house and the attic.  If that's not an option, or you're looking for a quicker fix, you can use something like Grace brand roof underlayment, essentially a sheet of rubber with super sticky tar on the back.  This stuff clings like crazy to plywood, seals any places water can get in (when applied correctly), seals around nails, and keeps any water that can get through from migrating.  We have frequently stripped the bottom three or six feet of a roof to apply the underlayment and then re-roof that part.

In the case of this roof, it was so badly sagged and wonky we decided to strip the shingles and create a new roof plane.  This house is big and tall, with the field being about 37 feet long and 20 feet up the rake, with roughly a 12 pitch (45 degrees).  We pulled off the old trim around the two rakes and the drip edge, replaced with all new trim built up to more appropriately suit the scale of the house.  We then strung a line on the ridge, which created four edges of a flat plane.  Using vertical strings, we blocked and shimmed horizontal battens into a nice base for new 1/2" plywood.  With that done, underlayment on, and shingles nailed solidly down, it's done!  At least until spring when we tackle the back half.

This house was really neat to work on.  When we opened up the trim, I was fascinated to see that the ends of the floorboards were all trimmed to length with an axe.  Most of the timbers were hewn, and it was interesting to compare those hewn by novices and those by the experts.  It was also interesting to see how much some of the rafters had twisted and moved, one in particular was twisted almost 45 degrees from end to end.

I've never really liked heights very much, but over the last two or three years have become more comfortable working at moderate heights through practice.  In dangerous or really high places we wear safety harnesses and fall ropes, but they always get in the way and in many cases I feel that they make the situation more dangerous.  Starting this project, which was particularly high and steep compared to many of the houses we work on, we were both really quite uncomfortable even walking around on the scaffold.  After a couple of weeks though, we were regularly playing catch with sawzalls, sheets of plywood, dashing up and down the ladders with hardly a care in the world.  Heights, though potentially a very real danger, are largely a mental block.  Once you can get comfortable, it is much easier to focus on the work and actually get things down in a timely manner.  If this roof had been on the ground, and especially without the need to manage the lead paint, we could have had the whole thing done in a week.  As it is, though, it took about 150 hours spaced out over two months to accommodate the weather (which was thankfully quite mild this year). 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mahogony Square

A couple weeks ago I was at the lumber yard picking up materials for work when I spotted an unusual piece of wood in the box of bunker wood (the junk wood used to keep good lumber off the ground).  My suspicions were confirmed when I picked it up and looked closer: a 3x4 of Mahogony (I can't tell which sort)!  I could see it was glued up of two pieces, but still respectable pieces.  I have been curious to see how it works, since I've heard that it's a good handtool wood.  The piece I have is quite light, maybe lighter than a similar piece of White Pine, and the grain is pretty distinct.

I first ripped it down the glue line, leaving me with roughly a 2x3.  A  square seemed like a good simple project to get a feel for the wood.  I ripped off a vertical grain piece for the blade, and used the original rip for the stock.  I sawed out the sides of the bridle joint, then chiseled the waste.  This wood is pretty soft and easy to saw, but the end grain also crushes fairly easily with chiseling and even planing.  It's hard to get a good polished finish on the end grain with a plane like I'm used to with the other woods I've worked.

I did a better job of laying this one out than my old one, so it was really square right away, without any fiddling.  I ran out of time so I didn't glue it, that will come later.  The proportions look funny to my eye, but as long as it works I don't really care.

I also bought an inexpensive micrometer a while ago, and I have been measuring some of my plane shavings.  I can get my block plane to take a shaving as thin as .001 (one thousandth of an inch) but no thinner.  I haven't seen the thinnest I can make with my #8 yet, but I bet I can match the block plane.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ad Nausem...

Last night when I dropped off my spoons, I sold one before I'd left the gallery.  I took this as a good omen, so I came home and carved out 7 more.  I finished them this evening, and I'll drop them off in the morning.  This weekend is the highest traffic weekend at the gallery, and I don't want to miss out on my chance.  My fingers feel like ground hamburger after two longish carving sessions on consecutive nights.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spoons Again

Today I met with the owner of a small art gallery here in town, the Gallery 101 in Collinsville, CT.  We discussed him carrying my spoons, and he likes the idea.  I donated all the spoons I had to the Timber Framer's Guild for their auction in Virginia at the Eastern Conference (and they went nicely, which felt very good), so I had to carve out some more to take in today.  Carving that Birch is always so much easier than I remember, since I don't get my hands on it too often.  It really feels like butter after all the Maple I use, even though I carve it green.  I finished up three to show him, he liked them, so I came home and got started on a batch.  Some eating spoons, a serving shovel, and a small bowled tasting spoon done from a crook.  The Cherry spoon I started carving this morning out of a piece of firewood waiting for someone, and also finished roughing this evening.

You might notice my bench in the background instead of a log or grass.  I've moved back inside for my woodworking.  It's been getting a tad chilly (though incredibly warm for the time of year), but more importantly it's dark so early I can't sit outside and carve without a light. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Spoon Club

I don't really like to repost others' blogs, but I really like this post so I'm going to go ahead and do it.  Barn the spoon has a great blog, he's one of my top spoonspirations.  I am really drawn to his philosophy on what spoons are all about, in a simple and literal sense as well as what they stand for as a symbol.  He posted this drawing up the other day and I totally dig it.

I also really like the idea of people coming together and spending some time together unplugged, enjoying some manually engaging activity that leaves the mind free to socialize with those around.  In the aftermath of the Halloween weekend storm we were without internet here in my house for two weeks, and frankly I quite enjoyed it.  I went over to the library every couple of days to maintain my email, and beyond that I didn't miss the urge to aimlessly waste time surfing the internet because I couldn't come up with anything better to do.  Sitting at home in the evenings we spent much more time talking, goofing around with one another, and doing some slightly more active and productive things (vs the more passive and unproductive things like watching movies, surfing the net, etc).  I really appreciate technology, and it constantly amazes me to think that in my own mother's lifetime microwaves were invented, and that my great grandmother would get summertime treats of icecubes from the horse drawn ice carriage in NYC during the great depression, less than 100 years ago.  In the span of less than half a lifetime we have gone from a computer taking up an entire office building to fitting in the palm of our hands, with ten times the capability.  As a communication tool the internet is entirely unparalleled in the history of the world.  However, as with any tool, it's all about how we use it.  It's very easy to get sucked into letting technology substitute for more concrete activities, crafts, and even interactions between people.  I find that I must remain vigilant, and even then I sometimes find myself zoned out staring at a screen with my brain and body less active than if I were asleep.

I suppose this is all more or less to say that I think this is a cool poster and a cool idea.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Birch Find

For those not near me geographically, I'll note that we had an apocalyptic snow storm Halloween weekend here in CT that resulted in a lot of trees coming down.  In the last three weeks I've seen plenty of people loading up wood laying on the side of the road for firewood, most of it is free for the taking.  The other day I was driving around and noticed some Birch on the side of a small back road, but I didn't have time to stop and collect it.  Today on my way home I did have time, so I quickly sectioned the larger branch pieces into three foot lengths with my folding saw, and found one larger log piece hiding in there too.  The rest of the larger pieces were taken for firewood, I assume.  If I get to use all of this before it gets too dry, it'll make a lot of spoons!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

TFG Eastern Conference

I realize that I haven't posted anything recently, part of that is due to not having internet at the house for the last two weeks due to the freak Halloween weekend snow storm here in CT.  Part of it is due to the fact that I am running out of original topics to post on.  I've carved a bunch of spoons, carved and fitted a couple of axe handles, and done some other misc woodworking.  But this is all stuff that I've posted on before, and how many spoons does everyone really want to look at?

Last weekend I took a road trip with a couple of friends down to Leesburg, Virginia for the Timber Framer's Guild Eastern Conference.  This is an annual event that brings together hundreds of timber framers, enthusiasts, and businesses for a weekend of learning and socializing.  This was my first conference, and I was not disappointed.  Not only was the venue very good, thought a bit confusing, but the entire event was everything that it is reported to be.  Most importantly, incredibly fun and educational.  I understand that in years past, this event has attracted upwards of 800 participants.  This year's event was a relatively modest 200+ participants, but it still felt like quite the gathering to me.

I attended a number of lectures including Vicco Von Voss's presentations on joining natural edged timbers and theory of craftsmanship in furniture and timber frames.  I also attended John Libby's presentation on the history of his company and some key pointers for running any business, but naturally geared toward timber frame companies.

Mez Welch demonstrating hewing in the front yard of the conference center.

Equally important and engaging were all of the hundreds of informal encounters I had at meals and in the halls, discussing anything from philosophy to the best joint under tension.

An entertaining aspect of the weekend was Fire Tower Engineering's joint buster, in which they tested several joints joining two pieces of wood orthogonally under tension.  It was interesting to see, in real time, how much force it took to break various joints from butted and screwed timbers to finely cut mortise and tenons.

All in all, it was a really great weekend.  Well worth the admission price and the 9 hour drive each way.

In other news, here's a before and after of the deck that I've been working on.  This one is wrapped up and we're moving on to the next job.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wason Pond Covered Bridge Ribbon Cutting

Today was the ribbon cutting at the Wason Pond covered bridge in Chester, NH that I posted about back in July.  I drove up yesterday after work, stopping in Boston to pick up my friend Emma who also worked on the bridge for a time, as well as spending a good chunk of time in Poland .  We arrived at about 11, set up the tent and crashed.  The ribbon cutting was only announced earlier this week, maybe Wednesday, so we weren't sure how many of the framers, or locals for that matter, would show up.  There was a pretty good turnout, and it was good to see some of the friends that I made on this project.  It was also nice to go for a dip in the pond again, though the water was quite a bit icier than the tepid bathtub water it was in July.

Chuck Myette, the local that spearheaded the bridge, saying a few words of appreciation for all those involved.

It was also great to see the bridge 100% done, with the portals enclosed, siding up, and the end posts enclosed against the elements.  For more information on how this went down, head on over to the blog of the man in charge, Will Truax.  Its really something to see a project like this standing in place, where it will most likely be for the next hundred years at least, and know that I played a part in putting it together.  A bit of a different feeling from replacing someone's back deck, which is what I'm working on now.

In a case of "Its a small world after all", my friend Emma from Boston was telling me about someone she knows that started following this blog, and noticed that some of the events I am writing about echoed those that he was hearing about from her, so put two and two together.  Its amazing how small the world is getting these days.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Garland Mill Video

This is a video I took at the Garland Mill at the TFG NE Gathering a couple weeks ago.

Monday, September 26, 2011

TFG NE Gathering

 This past weekend was the Timber Frame Guild's North East Gathering.  It was hosted by Garland Mill in Lancaster, NH.  The venue was terrific, featuring a fully functioning water powered, belt driven mill that had saws for milling boards, milling the edges, and cutting to length.  The scenery was also incredibly beautiful, as you can see in the pictures.

Because my car is dead right now, I took a train into Boston and met up with my friend Emma and her dad, and we all drove up to Lancaster.  Saturday morning we were treated to a wonderful breakfast, including bagels cut on the shop's bandsaw.  The main events of the day were a talk presenting load considerations when designing a timber frame structure, followed by either scribing a small trailside shelter or a guided tour or a historic barn nearby.  I decided to stick around for the scribing workshop, which began with mapping out a scribing floor.

At the Chester bridge project that I worked on, we did not use a scribing floor or any other similar locating techniques, instead measuring diagonals and pulling off of reference points to locate our timbers in the lay-ups.  In this case, however, we had the luxury of a scribing floor built before hand.  This floor is level and flat, and has the full scale blue print for the East bent drawn onto it using points and chalk lines.  Using this floor, putting the timbers into position is quick and easy.  All that needs to be done is line the timbers up over the lines on the floor using plumb lines, no math or checking diagonals or anything else necessary. 

Another bent was laid-up in the workshop at the mill, with a map drawn on the floor in there.

 Because I was traveling by train, I had to keep my toolkit fairly small and light, as well as innocuous.  I assembled what I believe to be a fairly comprehensive but compact kit.  It all fits in a zipped bag that came with a Craftsman reciprocating saw.

I'm missing a couple of tools in my kit.  I still need a good plumb.  This past weekend I ended up using a rock tied to a string.  It worked, but it wasn't ideal.  I would also like to get a pair of trammel points, as it could make scribing a small amount faster.  It would be nice to have a chalk line or two in addition to my ink line.

With very few additions to this tool kit, I could build anything from a dovetailed box with a frame and panel lid to a house, given some time.  The biggest trick would be working out solid holding methods for working smaller pieces without a workbench (as is necessary if traveling with a toolkit).  Toshio Odate's book on Japanese Tools and Their Use helps to solve this issue.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spoon Crazy

 I've been loving the spoons lately.  Above is a pair of Cherry spoons I carved (along with two others) while visiting with family last weekend.  The week before I had finally stockpiled a handful of completed spoons, and was quite enjoying fondling them.  There's something about multiples of items like that I so enjoy.  Then my hip aunt got her eyes on them and took custody of several, including the other two Cherry spoons, which were fairly similar to the two pictured.  Oh well, back to carving.

Below is a pair of Maple spoons that I roughed out tonight.  I'm attending a wedding this coming weekend, and I think a few spoons will make a suitable gift.  I have to carve at least one more, because I realized too late that the groom is a lefty, and I made these both righty.  These are pretty good sized, that's about a 4" knife blade.  Perfect for cooking or serving.  I'll let them dry out for a couple of days and then finish them up.  You may notice the funky handle on the one-sometimes, despite my best intentions, the wood is just too stubborn.  It will get some more shaping when I finish them, so it looks less like I cut off a chunk by accident and more like a cool, funky handle.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Spoon Carving Video

Finally got that video I mentioned about spoon carving up.  I was having some trouble with youtube, but it's solved now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Montreal.
 I spent this last weekend in Montreal with a couple of good friends, it's about a 6 hour drive north of here.  I saw a couple of interesting things woodworking-wise, and some plain old interesting things.  I was a bit surprised to see just how French the city and surrounding areas is.  Outside of restaurant menus in the touristy areas and some select safety messages, just about all of the signage etc is in French.  Everyone that we interacted with was very polite and helpful.  A funny thing was when you approach someone, they greet with "bonjour!", and depending on whether you reply in kind or in English they either speak to you in French or English.  At first we tried to play it cool and reply with "Bonjour", but then we just looked stupid shaking our heads and trying to politely express that we didn't know French.

Ah the Schtroumpfs, also known stateside as the Smurfs.  Interesting translation.

Interesting architecture.

The French Pirates, quite good.

Dovetails hidden by molding.
While there, we visited the archeological museum, which was interesting if a bit of propaganda for how great the city is.  The museum was built on the foundation of a historical building, maintaining the foundation in the basement.  Some interesting construction details, including the wood pillars buried in the ground beneath the tall tower, a technique apparently used effectively in Venice to stabilize buildings in unsound soil.  The wood rotted, though, and the tower had to come down.  In the basement, the wood pillars are exposed, in all their rotted glory.  On at least one of them I saw what appeared to be hewing marks, though the beams appeared to be extremely regular (perhaps more regular than I might expect from hand hewn timber).  I suppose a skilled axeman could efficiently produce a near-perfect timber, so it's not unlikely that these were entirely hand hewn.  In one corner there was also a kid's play area, which had a costume chest like a simple blanket chest or tool chest, with nice hand cut dovetails in the corners, and staggered glue joints.  There was also a cupboard sort of thing, with dovetails covered with moldings.

Drawbored mortise and tenon in a cabinet door.

Blanket chest (or tool chest?)


Hand hewn?
 Overall we had a great weekend and really enjoyed the city.  I could see myself enjoying getting to know it a bit better in the future, it would be nice to find some of the places off the beaten path.  We also didn't make it to the Mont Royal park, which is supposed to be very nice.  Next time I go, I'm definitely going to bring my bike.  Though the Metro was very simple and effective, I like the freedom of having wheels, and the city is very bike friendly besides.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


 I can't get blogger to orient the photos correctly, so we'll just have to make do with them the way they are.  These are a few spoons that I've carved out of Maple the last couple of days.  I roughed them all out with the axe at once, and I knifed them in a couple of sessions.  Once they have a few days to dry out, I'll give my knife a fresh sharpening and finish them out.

Below I included a picture to show the variations in side profile I tried with this batch.  The deep one is the flat front scoop pictured above, and the straight is one of the small spoons near the hook knife.

For these spoons I took down a small Maple sapling, maybe 3-4" diameter at the base, and roughed out this batch within the first hour of having it down.  Sometimes I forget how much easier greenwood is to work than the dry or semi-dry stuff I have laying around.  With these small, fairly straight spoons I can get close to the 10 minute mark for a halfway decent spoon.  I might do a video later today in real-time of carving one.

When It Rains

The trouble with working in an outdoor "shop" as I prefer to do in the summer is that it's hard to get much done when it rains.  I could buy one of those cheap pop up tents, to keep the sun and rain off, but that just doesn't appeal to me that much.  And it's not critical that I can keep working on my little projects day in and out, since they're not making me any money.

So, because I have no pictures and only unedited video of the thing I've been working on the last few days, here is a great video of (I believe) Swedish woodworking in the late twenties: Link  This includes a clog maker, spoon carver, and chair makers.  They all work with a great deal of efficiency and precision, and with a fairly small tool kit.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Some New Tools

After I got back from NH, I decided that I needed a couple of things.  I ordered up a plane sack for my Veritas plow plane, because it's a bit awkward to store safely.  I'm thinking about getting sacks for my other planes as well now that I've seen that these are pretty nicely made.  I could also just buy gun sacks, made from the same stuff (3 for $15), and cut and stitch them to the appropriate lengths.  Because I left my framing square up north, I also decided to try out one of the Japanese squares that Lee Valley sells, in addition to a nice precise 12" rule (made by Shinwa, not pictured).  While I was on the site, I saw that Lee Valley was running a special on Narex bevel edge chisels, with even lands.  I could use a decent set of chisels, all of mine are crummy butt chisels I've collected.  I decided to pull the trigger, since I have the Narex mortise chisels and have been pleased with them.  I went for the set of four, because I don't need any more (and these four are probably more than enough).

You can see here after a couple of flattening strokes on each what kind of shape they were in.  Apart from the 3/4", all of these flattened up relatively easily.  The 3/4" will flatten out gradually as I sharpen it in the future, but for the time being I used something resembling "the ruler trick" to just flatten a narrow strip right behind the cutting edge.  I sharpened up to 600 grit DMT, stropped and packed them away in my new canvas roll.  Interestingly, the 1/2" felt the best in my hand as far as balance...hard to put into words, but it just feels incredibly elegant and nimble.  The lands aren't quite as narrow as I was hoping (and as appeared in the renderings on the site), but they will do.  I also wouldn't mind seeing a steeper angle on the bevels, as it is they wouldn't go too far for clearing the insides of dovetails, which is the only joint that I commonly cut where a bevel edge is a boon.  But maybe I'm asking too much of a set of chisels that I paid less than $10 a piece for.

A few words on the square: I bought this thinking it would make a nice lightweight framing square.  As soon as I went to use it to lay out some datum on a stick, however, I discovered that it's no good for the way I work.  In NH where I learned to lay out datum (the ideal reference planes projected through the timber), we worked from the inside of the square, using the scale on the inside of the tongue for marking the top and side measurements.  The Japanese square is only graduated on the outside edges, making it difficult to use in this fashion.  It will still be a handy small square, but will probably see a lot less use than my regular framing square because the framing square will be around for other tasks anyways.

I handled a couple of the Shinwa 12" rules in NH, and so when I decided I needed to replace my Staedtler rule (nothing inherently wrong with it, but it's not ideal for carpentry) I thought first of the Shinwa.  I decided to go ahead and order the Lee Valley cabinet maker's rule, and when it arrived I was surprised to see that it was in fact the Shinwa.  Very nice rule.  Precision graduations to 64ths on one scale, just in case, and overall a nice precision stainless steel rule.  I forgot that I had ordered it at all, until I was pulling my receipt out from under the packing paper in the box and discovered it, hence the exclusion from photos.  I even got to put it to some use setting the fence on the table saw at work, much more accurate than the tape measure. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

Finishing Up

Sorry for the gap in posting.  We started to get down to the wire, working upwards of 12 hours each day, and I didn't have the energy or the particular inclination to get on to post.  So I'm going to put up the last few days in one post.

We assembled one truss, got it upright and stabilized, then assembled and righted the other truss.  The trick to these was making sure they went up on rollers on the timber track that some of the crew constructed earlier in the week.  Once they were both up, we could install the tie beams with the knee braces, install the floor joists and decking, and finally install the rafters.  We got the roof sheathed in 1x, and got some good bracing in place for the locals that will roof the bridge.  All of this done, the riggers Grigg 2 and Grigg 3 prepared to roll the bridge over the falseworks and drop it in place.  Stable on the rollers and rigged up to a Tirfor, a large winch-like device, it slowly crawled into place.  It was jacked up, the falseworks removed (the timbers from which became a raft and a log rolling game for me and a few others), and it was settled into place on some Black Locust blocks.

My sharpening setup that I kept in my toolbox.  A 6x2" 220/600 grit DMT, and a two sided strop with black and green compound.  With a little spit or a dribble from my water bottle, this system allowed me to quickly and easily keep the edges on my tools sharp without having to walk back to the sharpening station at the other end of the site.

Cancelling the wind in a stick of timber using framing squares as winding sticks.

Will Truax, professional bridgewright, trimming a joint with a Gransfors forest axe.

This young man jumped right into planing, using my Stanley #8 with no problems.  He both pushed and pulled it, not seeming to have a preference.

Baron mean-mugging while trimming the roof sheathing.

My new friend Emma having fun with the camera.

Consulting with Bruce.

Grigg 2, the senior rigger.

Trimming decking made of 8/4 White Oak.

Joel McCarty, executive director of The Timber Framer's Guild, looking on.

Pulling the bridge into place.

Pirates trying to capsize my raft on Wason Pond.  Below, a spoon I carved in small increments in between the three primary activities: working, eating, and sleeping.  It's made from a hunk of White Birch I got from Dick Lewis, the sawyer that cut all the timber for the bridge.  I think it might be my favorite spoon that I've carved.