I promised students in my last Anarchist Tool Chest class that I’d do a video on cutting hinge mortises – so this is for them.
I promised students in my last Anarchist Tool Chest class that I’d do a video on cutting hinge mortises – so this is for them.
I’m delighted that JoJo Wood and her partner, Sean, will visit Covington, Ky., on their upcoming trip across the Atlantic. JoJo is teaching two courses at Plymouth Craft in Massachusetts, then they’re traveling to Kentucky for a two-day spoon-carving class on August 8-9. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, July 5, at 10 a.m. Eastern.
Starting from a piece of fresh green wood and using just three hand tools (small axe or hatchet, straight “slojd” knife, hook/“spoon” knife), you’ll learn simple carving techniques to create beautiful spoons you can use in your home. Take home some beautiful objects and plenty of new skills to begin or continue carving at home. The class is suitable for those with any or no carving experience – including complete beginners ($350 plus a small stock fee).
Read more in the class description on our Covington Mechanicals classes site, and set a reminder to return Tuesday at 10 a.m. to register.
If you’ve been waiting on a Crucible Dovetail Template, click the link to head on over to the store – as of 8 p.m., we have four score in stock.
And exciting (and long-awaited) news on the scraper front: They’re almost ready. Chris and I burned our hands today loading them into the back of his pickup truck…because we were so stupid as to leave the oil-bathed beauties sitting in the hot sun in the back of Catbus for a few hours, after they delivered from C.T.S. Waterjet. Oops. Tomorrow morning, I’m driving the scrapers down to Nicholasville, where Craig Jackson and the crew at Machine Time will machine and polish the edges, and engrave them with the Crucible logo. (Note: You can find out more about Craig in Sunday’s post.) So we hope to hve those back in stock soon!
Plus I got an update today from the foundry, where a run of holdfasts was poured the first week of June. The grinding is almost done, and those should be shipping next week.
Finally, we got notification this morning that our (long-awaited) hardcover edition of Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises” was in line at the printing plant’s shrink-wrap machine – here’s hoping it got on the truck later in the day, as it was supposed to. It should be in the warehouse next week.
The following is excerpted from “James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints.”
James Krenov (1920-2009) was one of the most influential woodworking writers, instructors and designers of the 20th century. His best-selling books – starting with “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook” – inspired tens of thousands of people to pick up the tools and build things to the highest standard.
Yet, little is known about his life, except for a few details mentioned in his books.
After years of research and more than 150 interviews, Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney has produced the first and definitive biography of Krenov, featuring historical documents, press clippings and hundreds of historical photographs. Gaffney traces Krenov’s life from his birth in a small village in far-flung Russia, to China, Seattle, Alaska, Sweden and finally to Northern California where he founded the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program (now The Krenov School).
“James Krenov: Leave Fingerprints” brims with the details of Krenov’s life that, until now, were known only to close friends and family.
In the fall of 1981, 22 students arrived at the new building at the end of Alger Street in Fort Bragg to begin the first year of The College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program. The small shop was equipped with all of the elements Hoke and Kavanaugh had procured to Krenov’s specifications. The northern end of the building housed a wood room with two bays (one for exotic woods and one for locally sourced lumber), a small office, a supply room, a bay of lockers that would be swapped out for a small kitchenette after the first two years, two bathrooms and a neutral entry space that housed a table for informal lunches and the school’s library of craft books. In the middle of the building was the heart of the school, a large bench room, outfitted with 22 new cabinets, stools, bench lights and workbenches. Through the back doors on the eastern side of the bench room was a small field that backed up onto a bluff overlooking Pudding Creek; out of the front doors on the western side was a small yard, in which a volleyball court would soon be installed. Through double doors at the southern end of the bench room was the machine room, housing a number of new machines: a drill press, an 18″ planer, a large jointer, band saws, mortisers and table saws. These were joined by a few of Krenov’s machines from his basement workshop in Bromma: a small planer, jointer, band saw and combination table saw/mortiser.
The school’s layout and arrangement would hardly change in the coming decades. A small outbuilding for storing air-dried planks and a small finishing and storage room attached to the southern end of the building would be the only significant additions to the building’s footprint through the years. The environment built out in that first year remained almost unchanged over the next four decades, visiting alumni often remarking on the time capsule-like quality of the space.
Down the eastern and western sides of the bench room, carefully placed windows and skylights allowed a flood of natural light, raised above the level of the tool cabinets and out of a direct line that would cause unwanted glare. Each source of natural light was outfitted with a shade that could be drawn to cover the window, allowing for slide presentations and more controlled lighting when work was exhibited and photographed. At the front of the bench room, just inside the main entrance, was the teacher’s bench, where Michael Burns, Crispin Hollinshead, Robert Lasso and Krenov would begin lecturing and teaching.
The first cohort to attend the school came from a variety of backgrounds. Some, like Paul Reiber, were local craftspeople, thrilled at the prospect of an affordable education in fine woodworking, not necessarily drawn to the program by Krenov’s presence. Others, like Hoke, had upended their lives to come to study with Krenov on the remote Mendocino coast, and many had been excitedly awaiting the program’s opening. There was an overwhelming feeling among the first class that they were a pioneering group, entering at the ground floor of what was, by all accounts, a new kind of woodworking program. Nationally, the school was novel in its affordability, being a community college education. Furthermore, Krenov’s name and reputation would be a unique draw for the school, one that would save another key expense in opening such a program: advertising. Krenov’s presence would prove to be enough to attract a wide audience, augmented in part by the thriving local craft scene and the craftspeople relocating to the area. Furthermore, the program was affordable. For California residents, the program cost $100 for the two-semester program; for out-of-state attendees, the program was just more than $3,000, well less than the tuition of established programs elsewhere.
In addition to its affordability and high standards, there was also the emphasis on Krenov’s “quiet expression and enjoyment and sensitivity,” as he told a reporter covering the new program. That emphasis was different from other schools. It was more concerned with personal pursuit and enrichment, and acknowledged that it was not strictly vocational training for professionals. While there was an air of excitement and novelty in the introductory year, it was attenuated by the consideration that the school’s faculty and students were still gaining their footing. Hoke, Burns, Hollinshead and Lasso were learning Krenov’s process and peculiarities. There was little disagreement among the faculty about Krenov’s work and philosophy, but each of the faculty members was still learning how to interact with Krenov as a colleague. Krenov could inspire and raise the spirits of a student doing his or her best work, but it was often the other instructors who would bolster those students struggling with the high standards put forth by Krenov’s demanding eye and approach. Krenov made no attempt to disguise his judgment of the choices made by students, and encouraged them to pursue the same rigorous and uncompromising goals he had set for himself.
“A woodworker first must learn the alphabet,” Krenov told the Sacramento Bee in 1986, speaking about his prescribed steps in beginning a woodworking practice. “Then a little spelling, then a little grammar. Then maybe you will write a little poetry.” Krenov was wary of some students’ desire to move too quickly, or to begin exploring less conservative or traditional approaches. To temper this overextension, the first projects were limited in scope; they had to be “simple, small, solid (not veneered) and ‘sweet.’”
Students who arrived with the aim of studying with Krenov had a wide variety of impressions of the man they met. Those with the most idealistic impression of Krenov’s philosophy were often surprised by Krenov’s forceful emphasis on technique and an unwillingness to compromise his standards when applied to student work. In the environment of the Mendocino coast, which proffered an egalitarian philosophy of inclusion, Krenov’s teaching style might have been perceived as an older and more “top-down” approach. Of course, the school had been built around his presence, and he was explicitly placed as the lead instructor and lecturer at the school.
“Some of them clearly had difficulty dealing with Krenov’s sometimes temperamental nature, especially after having formed an image of him based on his writings,” wrote Paul Bertorelli in his 1983 comparison of Krenov’s and Wendell Castle’s different teaching approaches for Fine Woodworking. “‘I think we all went in expecting a guru of woodworking,’ [Ken] Walker said, ‘but we found Jim to be a real person with all the same problems, conflicts and idiosyncrasies as the rest of us.’”
Michael Burns became a source of encouragement for students who had difficulties with Krenov’s critique; while Burns held a high standard and perception of the work the students could attain, he also took on a role of mediator and motivator. When a student encountered resistance or a negative critique of their work from Krenov, Burns often invited them out to the back of the school for encouragement or a beer.
“Most of his students, once past the first terrors of His Judgments, just call him Jim,” Glenn Gordon wrote in his 1985 profile of Krenov and the school for Fine Woodworking. Those who were able to endure Krenov’s demanding standards and frankness in feedback were rewarded by his talents as a lecturer and his “ability to enable students to do their best,” as one alumnus of the school remembers. Many students from the first years encountered a sensitivity and passion in his teaching that bolstered and raised their own considerations of what they could accomplish. In Krenov, they saw the spirited and impassioned craftsperson from the books, no less idealistic in person. Many came with the expectation to work in concert with Krenov’s philosophy and approach, and accepted a narrower focus of aesthetics and processes closely aligned with Krenov. Krenov did not demand that students emulate his exact aesthetic; in fact, he was often most critical or demanding of students who reproduced his designs, which rarely met his standards.
“If you’re going to do something that someone else has done, because you really like it, then maybe the best thing to do is not to tinker with it too much and start from scratch instead,” Krenov would later say in a 1994 lecture. “Just say, well, okay, I’ve got this thing in the back of my head, but what I’m gonna do is going to be different enough, and good enough, to where it will stand on its own and it’s not just a bad imitation.”
The following is excerpted from “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree,” by Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee.
For more than two decades, this unlikely pair – an attorney in Baltimore and a joiner at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts – pieced together how this early furniture was constructed using a handful of written sources, the tool marks on surviving examples and endless experimentation in their workshops.
The result of their labor was “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to 17th-century Joinery.” This book starts in the woodlot, wedging open a piece of green oak, and it ends in the shop with mixing your own paint using pigment and linseed oil. It’s an almost-breathtaking journey because it covers aspects of the craft that most modern woodworkers would never consider. And yet Alexander and Follansbee cover every detail of construction with such clarity that even beginning woodworkers will have the confidence to build a joint stool, an iconic piece of furniture from the 17th century.
In 17th-century New England, joiners made chairs, tables, chests, stools, cupboards, wall paneling and various other products all based on a few basic principles. Their oak was split, or “riven,” from a freshly felled log, and worked up at the bench with a few simple hand tools. Although the configuration of the pieces varied, the essence was always the same: a frame joined at its corners with drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints fastened with wooden pins. Sometimes these frames had panels fitted into their inner edges, as in a chest; other times they were open, as in the stool that is the subject of this book.
Our work in studying joined furniture has its roots in the post-and-rung chairs made by John (now Jennie) Alexander, whose 1978 book Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Working Green Wood was pivotal in the revival of the traditional techniques regarding working wood riven or split from a log.
This background became a key element in our study of 17th-century-style New England joinery.
Alexander’s experience from chairmaking was the necessary foundation that helped her recognize that the preparation of joinery stock was based upon the same green woodworking techniques as the chairs. In 1980, Charles Hummel of the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library showed Alexander the interior of a joined oak chest in the collection. It was immediately clear that the rear stiles had been riven, not sawn, and that the stiles were bookmatched sections split from each other. This commenced a journey into the lost craft of joinery. With the patient kindness of Hummel, Benno M. Forman, Robert St. George, Robert Trent and many others, Alexander was able to closely study examples of 17th-century New England joined furniture.
Also in 1980, I saw an advertisement for a week-long class in chairmaking being held at Drew Langsner’s craft school Country Workshops taught by Alexander. I didn’t drive at the time, had practically never been out of New England and I wasn’t much of a woodworker. Plus, I was terminally shy. Regardless, I wrote to the address, signed up for the class and made plans to get to western North Carolina.
After stumbling along on my own for a few years, I returned to Country Workshops in the mid-1980s, and was for the next five years or more a regular attendee at classes – timber framing, white oak basketry, spoon carving, and coopering, as well as post-and-rung chairs with Alexander and American-style Windsor chairs. Sometime about 1986, Alexander showed a class at Country Workshops a slide presentation about 17th-century oak furniture made in New England.
Thus I was caught, and Alexander and I began an informal study together, yet we were 500 miles apart. Alexander lived and worked in Baltimore, Md., and I lived at the time in Hingham, Mass. Our “work” together consisted of lengthy correspondence and weekly phone calls. We would each spend some time studying original artifacts at Winterthur’s museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We’d take numerous slides and notes, compile these and send them off to each other in the mail. We would each work in our shops, experimenting with our ideas based on what we had seen on the surviving furniture. It was a cumbersome undertaking by today’s standards, but one benefit was that the need to write it down forced a sense of clarity upon our thinking. Each year we spent a week or two together, both in the workshop and at times studying artifacts.
Our artifact study was supplemented by the study of the tool history, as well as the documentary study of the period. To learn about the tool kit of the 17th century, we started with Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises: Or the Doctrine of Handy-works Applied to the Arts of Smithing, Joinery, Carpentry, Turning, Bricklaying. This book was published in serial form between 1678 and 1683 in London, and the chapters on joinery and turning were a critical first step in our study of tool history. (For more on the sources we used for tool research, see “The Historical Evidence for Tool Selection and Use” on page 25.)
Additionally, we studied probate inventories in great detail for craftsmen’s tools. Learning of the period tool kit and understanding the traditional use of bench tools such as planes, saws, chisels and carving tools helped us to see that to assemble a tool kit that functioned like a 17th-century kit was not that difficult. The forms and functions of hand tools have not changed much over time.
Throughout our studies, our friendship with Robert Trent, the leading American scholar on 17th-century furniture, was a great benefit. Trent led us through the process of researching the artifacts, their histories and the formation of an attribution for a group of furniture. This amounted to a private internship, though quite informal. The first results of this collaboration with Trent were published as “Seventeenth-Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: The Savell Shop Tradition” in the 1996 edition of the journal American Furniture. (1)
In the end, what we learned was a discipline in two related crafts: that of the joiner/turner in the shop, and that of the furniture historian, using artifacts, archives and documents to better understand these 17th-century trades.
Early on, we decided to focus on the joint stool as an introductory project that encompasses most of the basics of joinery. The stool requires only short lengths of timber, and except for the seat board, narrow dimensioned stock. This makes it easy enough to acquire the necessary timber, without a great expenditure of time and effort. The principle elements of joinery – riving and working the stock directly from the log, and cutting and fitting the drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints – are well represented in this project. After a few stools, the progression to more involved joinery featuring paneled work is not a huge leap.
(1) Peter Follansbee and John Alexander, “Seventeenth-Century Joinery from Braintree, Massachusetts: the Savell Shop Tradition” in American Furniture, ed., Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England for the Chipstone Foundation, 1996) pp. 81-104.