There’s a new school for hand-tool woodworking, blacksmithing and long rifle making in Northern Ohio that is definitely worth checking out.
Called Colonial Homestead’s Artisans Guild, the school operates out of a storefront in Millersburg, Ohio, a vibrant old town with some beautiful architecture and even a working inn. There’s nothing quaint about the town. It’s just a 19th-century town that never got the memo that small towns are supposed to be dead.
In the heart of downtown is Dan Raber’s tool store, called Colonial Homestead. It’s the best-stocked tool store I’ve seen outside the East Coast (and rivals Hull’s Cove Tool Barn). Raber is the spearhead for the school, which is across the street from the store.
The last time I visited Millersburg, Raber was still working on the building. Now there are workbenches, a forge and lots of natural light from the storefront window.
There are a wide variety of instructors and the prices are very competitive. Check out the current class list here.
The school has a lot going for it. Raber is a tireless advocate for hand tool use. His tool store is a huge candy store for woodworkers. And the school is in Ohio’s Amish country. There’s great food, cheese, quilts, lumber (Keim Lumber and Yoder Lumber) and lots of beautiful rolling hills. It would make an excellent family vacation spot.
Megan FItzpatrick and I finished up two big loads of Crucible lump hammers during the Memorial Day weekend and they are in the store now. Sorry, we sold out. More on the way next week.
We have greatly increased production (yay) thanks to bringing on some more help with assembly. I’ve built some new jigs that improve the handle production – some of the slots for the wedges weren’t perfectly centered. We’ve also changed the way we add the Crucible logo to save on tooling costs (and it looks crisper). And we modified the shape of the hammer head’s eye (it’s a right nutty shape) to cut out a step with handle assembly.
It’s crazy. We’ve made so many of these lump hammers that I can grind heads in my sleep now. But we’re still finding ways to improve the process and the product.
The Crucible lump hammer is $85 plus shipping. You can purchase yours here.
This week Chris Williams and I have taken tons of photos for his forthcoming book “The Life & Work of John Brown” and things took an interesting turn, visually. As we’ve recorded the construction process of his chair for the book, I’ve put away my tripod and recorded the process with a handheld camera and natural light, journalism style.
It’s what I did for most of my early career as a writer and photojournalist for newspapers and small magazines before I landed at Popular Woodworking magazine. I shot full manual for many years and processed my own negatives and prints. The tradition at Popular Woodworking and F&W Media, Inc., however, was to shoot transparencies and do it with a tripod and strobes. Which I embraced.
But if you have a little skill with a camera, you can capture some nice moments. The only problem is that you have to make sure you are capturing usable how-to information and not just emotion or a nice composition.
Today I started reviewing the 941 photos I took this week and kept (I trashed several hundred images that were obvious garbage). I have to admit, I’m a little excited by the frames I kept. They are unlike the photography you see in approximately 100 percent of woodworking books and magazines these days.
I love what I see on my screen, but I hope it’s good enough.
I’m sure you will let me know when the book comes out.
When I make things for sale – chairs, hammers, tool chests, workbenches, whatever – I struggle with when to let the things go out of my hands and into the world.
Sometimes I think I have two choices:
Perfection first. I first need to get all the details perfect no matter how long it takes. Then I’m going to get faster and faster at it.
Speed first. I need to get this project done so it makes money and is acceptable to a customer. Then I’ll achieve perfection as I get better and better at it.
I’ve found the truth is something entirely different. When I make an object for the first time or the 10th time, getting it “just right” is impossible because I have no conception of how good the thing can become in the end.
For example, when I started making lump hammers in our shop, I made them slowly and to what I thought was a high standard. The problem was that my eyes couldn’t conceive of what a really good hammer looked like. So my first hammers were made slowly and weren’t anything like they look like today – to my eye. (Note: Even my early ones were good. I’m not asking to be swamped with returns.)
Same with chairs. When I invited Peter Galbert over for dinner one night I had to look him in the eye and say: I can afford to own only my early and prototype chairs. These things horrify me. Please don’t judge me by them. He smiled broadly and nodded. (I know in my heart he was judging me.)
I’ve concluded that speed and quality are not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to choose one over the other. Instead, I start with neither and end up with both. It just takes time at the bench, the lathe or the belt grinder.
This week I have this Irish chair prototype (above) sitting around the shop while Chris Williams teaches two classes stocked with experienced chairmakers. I honestly wanted to hide the chair somewhere. It’s a mess. But Lucy and I are moving house right now and there is no place to stash it.
Though it pains me to look at the chair, its presence also forces me to see it and develop an eye for what it can become. And that’s the first step to getting it right.
I thought having sponsors would be easy – wear their T-shirts and cash their checks. Sadly, we’ve have had a bumpy relationship with both Hold Harmless clamps and Malodorous Mallet. (We, ahem, have a couple gross of Malodorous-brand mallets to give away at the next open day, FYI.)
Thanks goodness for CTS Co., makers of the Tenonitis (TM) Joinery Saws. To celebrate, we’ll be putting their new line of Joint Ripper saws through their paces in our shop in the coming weeks.