Saturday, 23 June 2012


Perfection. Something I've long realised I'll never attain. Oh I seek it alright, but as a bloke I know once said to me, "I'm not a perfectionist, I'm an idealist. My ideal is to be a perfectionist." But in all seriousness, I actually enjoy the challenge and like the fact that there is an honesty in my work. It's not perfect and I don't pretend it to be or claim any world's best schooling to justify it or my existence. I'm happy producing the best pieces I can and letting my work speak for itself.

Christopher Schwarz produces a fine blog and his Lost Art Press publishing house is a breath of fresh air in a somewhat machine focused ( read -polluted ) woodworking environment. Chris will often just post a memorable quote or a passage from a favourite book, but always something that resonates with us all. His last was no exception ( find it here -  ) So much so that I thought I might reciprocate with one of my favourites. A personal note from Master wood carver, Frederick Wilbur in his book, Carving Architectural Detail In Wood. This one really speaks to me and I think it fits me to a tee. I hope you get something from it too.

"I am sympathetic to imperfection - it has value - and see myself always as an apprentice to my work. I believe in the integrity of being self taught. Of course the artisan is always striving for excellence of expression, but endemic to the nature of craftsmanship is the unsatisfactoriness of the creative act, which must always include on some level experiment or chance. Each piece of handwork embodies a story, a tale of process. The unique quality of handwork makes possible the complex sense of exhilaration and pride in achievement that all art strives to communicate. There should be no attempt to imitate the work accomplished by machine or computer - though I hesitate to romanticise working with a once living material. Things of quality take time - not only in the sense of a long-enduring tradition, but also in the simple sense that handwork includes the idea of mindfulness." 

So many tasks.......

So few hands. I had planned to finish off the window this weekend, but with the weather being fine and rain holding off today and tomorrow, we decided to move a few things around between the various sheds and storage units we have our things spread in around town. But at least I managed to get the mortises cut and picked up the glass from the local glazier in the short time I had.

He didn't have toughened glass but did have 6mm laminated instead, which is pretty strong in it's own right and should be good thermally too.

They fit perfectly and make for a nice strong window. As I said before, I think this window will out live the cottage. And on the subject of the cottage, a package arrived on Friday afternoon from the U.K, a little detail that we had to search for a while to find.

Rat tail door bolts for the French doors. These guys are hand forged and have just the right look. I couldn't help myself and fitted them straight away. The other door handles and details are even closer to the mark, but I'm saving those pic's for a large blog post that I'll do when the fit out of the rest of the interior is complete. But so far it's looking just how we envisaged, and hey, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Huon Pine

To my fellow Australian followers, Huon Pine ( Lagarostrobos franklinii ) is no stranger. To Tasmanians it's virtually a member of the family. So revered is the timber from the Huon Pine tree, there are only 3 Sawmills licensed to mill the salvaged timber in the entire country. 

It is finely grained, growing about 1mm per year, beautifully coloured and can be found with a 'birdseye' or  'bear claw' figure , rich in insect repellant oils  ( methyl eugenol ) which also give it it's intense and somewhat sweet scent, beautiful to work with hand tools, spectacular to turn on the lathe and is impervious to rot. In reference to the latter, a fallen log was once tested and found to be 38,000 years old. Yes that's 38,000 years! It is said to be the undisputed best boat building timber in the world, full stop. Industries have been formed from it's use and townships have risen on the back of it's value. Pretty special stuff.

I've had a nice stash of Huon in the rack for ages. Carted it around the countryside moving house. Big lumps that I put aside for that rainy day, not really knowing when that would be or what form it would take. Then about a month ago I chopped a bit off the end of one of those lumps for a perch seat for Bec and realised in the process that these pieces of wood are not getting any more special by just sitting in a wood rack, they needed a use and a place. 

We are moving ahead with the cottage and now the focus is back on me to start the ominous task of fitting out the interior with the built in cupboards and fine detail. One of those jobs is to make a window for the bathroom. The bathroom window sits above the shower and lets in a direct beam of sunlight on late afternoons. Having seen my fair share of rotting bathrooms during my stint as a plumber, I knew that I didn't want this window to be affected by water or steam and ultimately if the finish broke down then I did not want the timber to rot. One guess?

So one of the smaller pieces I had was broken down in length then resawn on the bandsaw. 

On the same day I started I finally got my combination machine into the shed, after a long hibernation in a local storage unit. I've missed not having a bench saw. 

So it was put straight to work and cut the rebates into the head and side jambs and a tapered rebate to the sill for water run off. Then another rebate of the side jambs to close the gaps and the roughing out of the frame was complete.

Friday I'll begin to hand cut the 4 through mortises for the two mullions to fit into, get some 6mm toughened glass panes cut, hand plane it smooth and put the whole shebang together. With any luck the window should outlast the house! I'll post some pics of the finished window on the weekend.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Recycle Reuse Reduce

A days milling at Dad's farm produced a full ute of sawn timber, Macrocarpa, Poplar and English Ash. I don't know if this is more reusing than recycling? I have been salvaging logs from Melbourne's parks and gardens and around the countryside for a few years now, most had been critically ill due to the drought and were being removed on a weekly basis. Had they not been collected they were earmarked for mulching. Which I guess is recycling in it's own right, but when it comes to logs like the 100 year old plus English Oak that came from the Treasury Gardens, then I think it deserves something better than being turned into mush! Reuse, check.

But back to the milled timber. Knowing how much is involved after the milling is finished, I was mindful that I had to find a place to stack and 'sticker' it. The other wood rack is full. For those who have not worked will freshly milled logs, the sawn timber must be carefully stacked flat with numerous thin sticks ( stickers ) in between each plank to allow for air flow and reduce the possibility of rot or mildew. Stacking carefully and flat also ensures that the dried timber remains as flat as when it was milled. Pretty important stuff then.
My previous results with air drying have been mixed. But I've learnt enough to know that a new approach was needed which maximised the pro's and minimised the downfalls. Here are a few of both.

Direct sunlight - Not good. Especially during our hot summers, especially with Elm, London Plane ( Sycamore ) etc.

Dry- a given.

Cool shade - good.

Cool air flow - good.

Flat and even base - essential.

Dry and even stickers - very important or the stack can't be flat or even and will warp.

Weight - Great if you can weight the top of an even timber stack.

I'd planned the day of milling but was running short on stickers. Dad had the answer. He had recently done a milling job for the Berwick District Woodworkers Club  ( find them here - ) and they had been using off cuts from a local window factory. A wheel barrow full of off cuts was transformed into about 650 stickers with a mornings work on the bandsaw. Recycle, check.

Reduce? My last wood rack was large and although freestanding and essentially a temporary structure, it used a lot of materials to construct and took a fair while to build.  Time for something better and more effective.

A pile of steel that was earmarked for the tip from a demolished factory, two left over Dexion racking beams from a second hand lot I bought on the net, the re-milled stickers and the only new material, $30 worth of 3/8" all thread, some nuts and washers. Reduced.

The Dexion was levelled on the crushed rock. The steel was docked at 1200mm and laid evenly across the beams. The timber stacked with stickers evenly and accurately spaced.

                                 Another row of timber and a row of holes drilled in the steel.

The top of the stack levelled. The difference at one end made up with a stack of stickers. Then another row of pre-drilled steel offcuts on top, thread the rods through and tighten them up. A couple of old sheets of iron on top and some more around the sides to be added tomorrow.

Flat, shaded, good air flow, well stickered and instead of a heavy weight on top, clamped together! Best of all there is no room for the timber to warp and it can be tightened periodically as it begins to settle or to shrink in size. And all for a bit of elbow grease and thirty bucks. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Things to do in Winter

In my last post I said it was nice carving spoons by the fire. Well things are getting colder by the minute in Kyneton and last night I just didn't get enough done at the workshop. So the fireplace in the shop was just crying out to be used and what better use than making chairs?

Couldn't resist taking a photo. Well how often do you get to drag the shavehorse inside in front of the fire? I'm tipping it won't happen too often, but I got the spindles fitted to the Fan Back and all in front of the roaring fire. I love winter!

The lovin' spoonful

I'm grateful to be able to say that I was too young to experience The Lovin' Spoonful's music. Great name though and I've been having another spoon experience of late.

A fella in Tennessee told me a few years ago that when he tired of making chairs that he was going to carve wooden spoons. I'm sure when Curtis does, they'll be about the best spoons going around

Pete Galbert carves them regularly as well and says that if you want to learn about working wood - carve spoons. In fact he showed me how to select the right part of the trunk and branch to make graceful spoons with flowing, curved, continuous grain. Have a look a Pete's spoons on his blog, they are spectacular.

And lastly, I've been admiring the spoons and courses run by Drew Langsner for years. Just a bit far to travel to make a spoon.

But the other day I found myself down at the farm with a bit of time up my sleeve and staring at a very scrubby looking wattle tree. No good for chairs, but being scrub like means lots of branches and branches mean spoons.

I didn't have much in the way of tools, just a carpenters axe and my trustee pocket knife. At first I took the top of the branch down to reduce the weight below, so the blank I wanted wouldn't split or tear.

While I was cutting the branch off I noticed just how how rigid the remaining branch and trunk were. So being in the field, without a workbench or clamps I thought why not let the tree be the clamp for me. So with the bit I wanted still attached firmly to the trunk, I just hewed away as much as I could with the little axe ( albeit, the absolute worst type of hatchet for the job at hand ).

But wrong axe or not, it worked a treat and I found that I could really chop out the rough shape with relative ease and without trying to either balance it on a chopping block or clamp something uneven to a bench.

 There's a bit of work to go and I'm not happy with the handle, but as pretty much my first serious crack at spoon carving, I'm pretty pleased. And it's a nice thing to do by the fire at night too.