Tickets for Fine Woodworking Live

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Registration is open for Fine Woodworking LIVE, which will be April 26-29 at the Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center in Massachusetts. Along with a long list of top-shelf woodworkers, I’ll be there to explain the geometry that governs my chairs in a way that non-math people can embrace.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m already losing sleep over this event. For my class, I’ll be bringing a completed Welsh stick chair, lots of props and bags of Xanax and Ambien for all the lovely people who attend my lecture – you’ll barely remember it!

If you read this blog, you already know what you’ll be getting from me (squirrel jokes and clam dancing). So do check out the classes from the other instructors. I’ll be attending those as well, trying to get Mike Pekovich to autograph his new book, pestering Beth Ireland about turning offsets and trying to buy a bowl off Danielle Rose Byrd.

After years of helping organize Woodworking in America, I know how difficult it is to put together a good program such as this. So if you can, do take advantage of the magazine’s hard work and the instructors’ hard-won knowledge.

— Christopher Schwarz

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The Best Design Teacher: The Tree

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You don’t have to specialize in green woodworking to get some lessons in design from our good friends/mortal-est enemies – the trees.

Today I broke down some ash slabs for the upcoming class I’m teaching on stick chairs, and I was pleasantly reminded of some things I learned back in 2003 when I took my first chair class.

Curved Arms
Welsh chairmaker Christopher Williams first pointed out to me how chair arms can be efficiently harvested from curved branches or branches that had been “trained” by the woodworkers using some rope and a couple years of patience.

That idea was a revelation to me. I have yet to “train a tree,” but it’s on my list of things to do this summer in the forest behind our town’s cemetery.

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Instead, I was taught to look for curved components at the butt end of the tree – the part where the tree widens its stance as it plunges below the earth. The curves here can be dramatic, and it’s a great place to find curved arms or curved crest rails. And that’s exactly where I found most of the arms for the chairs for the class.

All of the slabs I bought had the butt of the tree in place. The butt looks like junk (sounds like a bad song). It’s usually split to pieces as it dries. But there are segments of grain that are perfect for arms. Just avoid the punky places.

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Why Bevel Your Seat?
Almost all chairs that are of staked, stick or Windsor construction have seats that are beveled on the underside. This wide bevel makes the seat appear lighter. And the bevel reduces the physical weight of the chairs, too.

It’s a great idea, but it’s probably the tree’s idea.

If you cut your seats out and try like heck to be efficient, you end up cutting the seats close to the exterior bark and the round shape of the tree’s trunk. And as your seats stack up, you might notice that the circumference of the tree has already started that bevel on the underside of the seat for you.

It’s not beveled all the way around the seat. But it’s a good start. You just need to finish the bevel to make it consistent.

Thanks trees!

— Christopher Schwarz

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Microwave Oven Drying

 

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Figure 6.12. Three 25 mm (1″) long lengths cut sequentially from an English oak plank were prepared and tested. Each piece started the test weighing 73± grammes, and were approximately 177 mm wide by 21.5 mm thick. Piece A was kept near a radiator for three days prior to further experiments. The weight recorded after this additional drying was 69 grammes. Subsequent microwave oven drying to 0 percent MC and a final weight of 65 grammes shows the piece started the test at 6.5 percent MC. After oven drying it measured 171 mm wide x 21 mm thick. B, the middle section of the three cut pieces, was placed outside but sheltered from rain for three days after which it, too, was oven dried to 0 percent MC. Prior to drying it weighed 76 grammes with a dry weight of 66 grammes. This equates to just over 15 percent MC, indicating its MC rose probably 7 percentage points over the three days. Dimensions of the piece just before oven drying were 177 mm wide by 21.5 mm thick. C was weighed and measured after three days of soaking in water. Its weight after soaking was 92 grammes and measured 184 mm wide by 22 mm thick. Subsequent oven drying to 0 percent MC and a final weight of 67 grammes show MC of this piece was 37.5 percent after soaking. Dividing the narrowest width (A) by the widest width (C), i.e., 171 / 184 = 0.93 or ~7 percent shrinkage from 30 percent MC, or greater. Similarly dividing the narrowest thickness by the greatest thickness, i.e., 21 / 22 = 0.955 or 4.5 percent shrinkage. The photograph was taken after A was oven dried but before pieces B and C were dried. The dimensions are very approximate as only a steel rule took the measurements. Although measurements are only approximate it’s interesting to note shrinkage factors for the tangential shrinkage (~7 percent) and radial shrinkage (4.5 percent) for this piece of oak are quite close to European oak numbers provided in various wood movement tables, i.e., 8.9 percent tangentially and 5.3 percent radially.

 

This is an excerpt from “Cut & Dried” by Richard Jones.

Oven drying in a microwave oven takes between 20 and 45 minutes. The average time is 30 minutes. It saves a great deal of time compared to drying wood in a regular oven. It does, however, require care and attention to details. Poor methodology and mistakes in the procedure usually lead to problems and failure.

You will need to be able to weigh the wood samples. I find electronic postal scales purchased at a reasonable cost from an office supplier work well enough for my needs. If you require more accuracy, more expensive scales are required. My scales provide readings in 1 gramme divisions from zero up to a maximum of 2,200 grammes, and the machine can be set to give readings in either grammes or ounces.

To dry the wood I use a turntable-type microwave oven with several power settings. The only two settings I use are the very lowest setting and the next higher setting which is “defrost” – your oven is likely to have a different configuration. But whatever marked settings are available, restrict yourself to the lowest one or two power levels. As the wood is heated, moisture evaporates from all exposed surfaces, including the bottom face resting on the turntable; three to five paper kitchen towels laid under the wood absorb and dissipate the condensed moisture drawn downward from the wood. If you’re testing several samples, make sure they don’t touch each other because this can concentrate the energy and can lead to smoking and possibly fire.

If the wood starts to smoke during the drying procedure the sample is ruined and you need to start again with a new sample. Smoking during the cooking means you have burnt away some of the wood volume, so weight measurements taken thereafter are inaccurate. This is why I mostly restrict myself to the lowest power setting and short bursts of heat. The second lowest power setting, defrost on my microwave oven, is seldom used, but I do sometimes use it for the initial drying cycle of very wet wood.

The ideal wood sample is the same as described in section 6.6, i.e., a full thickness and width piece taken at least 400 mm in from the board’s end, approximately 25 to 32 mm (1″ to 1-1/4″) long. Weigh your sample and make a note of this. If the sample is already partially dried, e.g., about 25 percent MC to 15 percent MC, cook the wood at the lowest oven setting for between one and a half and two minutes in the first cycle.

If you know the wood is already below 10 percent MC, I recommend you cook it at the lowest setting of the oven for no more than 45 or 60 seconds to start with.

When wood is definitely very wet, 30 percent MC or above, the first cooking should last no more than between one and a half and three minutes with the oven at the second lowest setting. Even in this circumstance I prefer to use the lowest oven setting. It takes a few minutes longer to dry the wood but is preferable to starting again because of a burnt sample.

After the first cycle, weigh the sample or samples again to form an impression of how quickly the wood loses weight, i.e. loses water. Let the sample rest for a minute or so and re-cook it for between 45 and 60 seconds and re-weigh.

Continue with this routine until you can’t measure any weight change, i.e., less than 0.1 of a gramme variation if you are using highly accurate scales. My scales read only to the nearest gramme, so I stop cooking when five or six low-weight readings are recorded.

When this point is reached, use the formula provided earlier, i.e., MC percent = ((WW – ODW) / ODW) x 100, where WW is wet weight of the sample, and ODW represents the wood sample’s oven dry weight.

The following cautions are important: Do not use the microwave oven’s high power settings. The internal heat built up in the wood needs to dissipate, and high settings cause rapid heat build up, smoke and even fire.

The more wood tested in one go, the more time is required to complete the job. This is useful because after the initial heating of a large batch you can rotate from one sample to the next in the oven with short bursts of cooking for each piece. This gives each sample a break between heating cycles, thus reducing the chance of overheating any one piece.

I generally find kiln-dried wood samples react differently to cooking than green or air-dried samples. It’s best not to mix samples of very different moisture contents and different wood species during the test, but it’s possible if you proceed with care.

Being sure the wood sample or samples is, or are, truly oven dry requires patience and careful weighing using accurate scales. It’s better, and safer, to use several short cycles in the oven at low settings than it is to try and rush the job using a higher setting for extended times. The latter strategy usually results in burning the wood and failure.

In closing, these final, following warnings probably seem obvious, but they’re worth mentioning. Removing cooked wood from the oven requires care. It’s usually quite hot, and can and does burn skin – you probably don’t need to ask how I know that! Use an oven glove or heavy leather work gloves. Also, be aware that at the end of testing, and unknown to you, wood might have charred on the inside: It can smoulder and burn and, if placed in a rubbish bin, could start a fire. Careful disposal is essential. The safest thing you can do is put the cooked wood in water when you’ve finished drying it to ensure it doesn’t burst into flames later – it can happen.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Cut & Dried | 20 Comments

Spoon Carving & Other New Classes Now Open for Registration

The new Covington Mechanicals classes posted last Monday are now open for registration (and linked just below). We also still have openings in some of our other 2019 classes, and those are linked below the four new ones.

Intro to Spoon Carving with JoJo Wood, June 17
Eating Spoon Master Class with JoJo Wood, June 18-19
Build the “Anarchist’s Tool Chest” with Megan Fitzpatrick, August 19-23
Build the Cabinetmaker’s Sector with Brendan Gaffney, November 23-24
Greenwood Post-and-rung Stool with Andy Glenn, March 23-24
Hoj Footstool with Brendan Gaffney, March 30-31
French Polishing with Derek Jones, July 11-12
Make a Carved Oak Box with Peter Follansbee, July 29-August 2
Build a Packing Box & School Box with Kieran Binnie, September 23-27
Build a Wall Cabinet with Anne Briggs (Anne of All Trades), October 7-11
Chip Carving with Daniel Clay, October 19-20
Build a Jennie Alexander Chair with Ray Schwanenberger, November 4-8
Make a Carved Oak Box with Peter Follansbee, December 9-13

As always, if you have questions about the classes in the Lost Art Press storefront, please send an email to me at covingtonmechanicals@gmail.com.

— Fitz

p.s. You can also take a class with me on either coast. On the West Coast, June 24-28, build a fancy Dutch tool chest build at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Washington State (it’s a gorgeous place!). On the East Coast, July 20-21, learn to cut four key corner joints with hand tools at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren, Maine (OK…it’s a 1/2-hour inland, but you can stay on the coast!).

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I Got my Stickers

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My stickers arrived from my daughter last night. They look great! If you would like a set you can order them from her etsy store – she ships worldwide.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Lump Hammers Back in Stock

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We’ve just delivered a large batch of Crucible lump hammers to our Indiana warehouse and they are available for sale and immediate shipment. The price is $85 plus shipping.

These hammer heads are milled out on a CNC, but everything else is done by hand – the surface finishing, the assembly, the detailing. As such, they will exhibit infinitesimal imperfections that are the result of a handmade product. If you are looking for perfectly extruded and plastic perfection, this is not the hammer you are looking for. Try the home center instead.

Each tool is a little different, thanks to the hickory, which has great variations in color, and the hand finishing of the heads, the hand-cut wedge and the hand assembly. I have personally inspected every one of these hammers with my eyes about 1” from the surfaces. They are gorgeous.

— Christopher Schwarz

 

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Coming Soon: Peter Follansbee’s ‘Joiner’s Work’

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This week I’m performing the final edit on Peter Follansbee’s forthcoming book, “Joiner’s Work.” If all goes to plan, it should be released in April.

Peter started work on this book eight years ago as a way to expand on the work from his book with Jennie Alexander, “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree.” The new book covers the construction of carved boxes, numerous chests, a bookstand and the fantastic geometric carving that blankets almost all of his woodwork – including his kitchen cabinets.

Because “Joiner’s Work” is firmly rooted in 17th-century American technique, it contains an outstanding guide to processing green wood from the log to the finished part. I don’t know anyone living who has done more of this sort of work, and so Follansbee offers no theories, ideas or concepts about green woodwork. Just hard-won experience: what works, what doesn’t and what to do when things go wrong.

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The projects are similarly no-nonsense, and Peter declines to offer 21st-century precision – such as CAD-perfect construction drawings – as a way to build 17th-century work. Why? If you’ve seen 17th-century chests where the builder used a router to help carve the panels, then you probably already know the answer in your heart. It looks wrong and silly. Instead, Peter offers a flexible way of approaching the projects that allows you to use what you have on hand to create boxes, chests and other work.

My favorite section in the book is on the carving. Peter unlocks the simple geometry behind the patterns he uses and shows – step-by-step – how he lays out and executes each cut. He insists that the tools and techniques are simple. After reading it, I believe him. It is simple. It’s just amazing to me how the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.

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Finally, I have to say something about Peter’s voice throughout the book. If you’ve ever taken a class from him or attended one of his lectures, you know he has a sharp wit. And he uses it to cut things apart. This book has the Full Follansbee. Reading it is like listening to the guy. It’s a delight to read.

We’ll post more details about the book, and when it will be available, shortly. “Joiner’s Work” was a long time in the making, but I promise it will be worth it.

— Christopher Schwarz

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