Katherine finished her latest block of classes on Thursday, came home and started cooking wax. Her email inbox(and Megan’s) have been filled with requests for wax. So here’s the biggest batch yet.
To help move this batch of Soft Wax 2.0, Katherine enlisted Penny-Turkey, the other cat who hates my guts. Penny-Turkey adores Lucy and Katherine. But when I enter the room, she hightails out of the room like I’d just put an M-50 in her small hole. (I have never mistreated an animal in my life; I am bewildered.)
Back to the finish: This is the finish I use on my chairs. Katherine cooks it up here in the machine room using a waterless process. She then packages it in a tough glass jar with a metal screw-top lid. She applies her hand-designed label to each lid, boxes up the jars and ships them in a durable cardboard mailer. The money she makes from wax helps her make ends meet at college. Instructions for the wax are below.
Instructions for Soft Wax 2.0 Soft Wax 2.0 is a safe finish for bare wood that is incredibly easy to apply and imparts a beautiful low luster to the wood.
The finish is made by cooking raw, organic linseed oil (from the flax plant) and combining it with cosmetics-grade beeswax and a small amount of a citrus-based solvent. The result is that this finish can be applied without special safety equipment, such as a respirator. The only safety caution is to dry the rags out flat you used to apply before throwing them away. (All linseed oil generates heat as it cures, and there is a small but real chance of the rags catching fire if they are bunched up while wet.)
Soft Wax 2.0 is an ideal finish for pieces that will be touched a lot, such as chairs, turned objects and spoons. The finish does not build a film, so the wood feels like wood – not plastic. Because of this, the wax does not provide a strong barrier against water or alcohol. If you use it on countertops or a kitchen table, you will need to touch it up every once in a while. Simply add a little more Soft Wax to a deteriorated finish and the repair is done – no stripping or additional chemicals needed.
Soft Wax 2.0 is not intended to be used over a film finish (such as lacquer, shellac or varnish). It is best used on bare wood. However, you can apply it over a porous finish, such as milk paint.
APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS (VERY IMPORTANT): Applying Soft Wax 2.0 is so easy if you follow the simple instructions. On bare wood, apply a thin coat of soft wax using a rag, applicator pad, 3M gray pad or steel wool. Allow the finish to soak in about 15 minutes. Then, with a clean rag or towel, wipe the entire surface until it feels dry. Do not leave any excess finish on the surface. If you do leave some behind, the wood will get gummy and sticky.
The finish will be dry enough to use in a couple hours. After a couple weeks, the oil will be fully cured. After that, you can add a second coat (or not). A second coat will add more sheen and a little more protection to the wood.
Soft Wax 2.0 is made in small batches in Kentucky using a waterless process. Each glass jar contains 8 oz. of soft wax, enough for at least two chairs.
When Kieran Binnie died by suicide in April, I had to take some time to think it over. I’ve had other friends and family leave the world this way, and there is a lot of anger, confusion, regret and loss to digest. At least there is for me.
Kieran and I met in 2014 when he was a student in an “Anarchist’s Tool Chest” class in England. While I try to keep a professional distance from students when I teach, I immediately bonded with Kieran over music – both playing it and listening to it – as well as the normal stuff (woodworking, tools and beer).
And it wasn’t just an international fling. Kieran and I kept in close touch since that class, meeting up in person a few times at woodworking events and classes – and always trading music recommendations back and forth. As well as staying in touch online.
At the time of his death, Kieran and I were working on a book together about the intertwined history of books and bookshelves and bookcases. I don’t know if I have the strength to complete that project on my own, but I do want something good to come out of his death.
Shortly after Kieran’s funeral, I talked with Rachel Moss, Kieran’s wife, about something we could do together that would help the craft, help build community (a very important thing to Kieran) and help people who might be struggling with mental illness.
I immediately thought of JoJo Wood and Sean, who run Pathcarvers in Birmingham – the same city where Kieran lived. Pathcarvers is a special organization that helps bring woodcraft to segments of the population that might not ever experience it, including people in drug and alcohol rehab, prisons, mental health services and those with low incomes. They do this in addition to offering courses to the public at large.
Rachel and I decided that Pathcarvers was a perfect fit for our efforts. And so I am pleased to announce The Kieran Binnie Memorial Fund for Craft. This fund goes directly to Pathcarvers to support their work. No administrative fees. No strings attached. This money will expand the courses that Pathcarvers offers and fund tuition for people who cannot afford it.
Pathcarvers has opened a GoFundMe page here. If you are interested in helping others through craft, I can promise that your money will be put to good use.
Please take a moment to read about Pathcarvers here. Plus some of the people who teach courses there (and have been themselves helped by the programs) here. And if you can donate – even a little – please do.
Our ceramics supplier has just filled our entire order of Lost Art Press Beer Steins, and they are now available for immediate shipment. The mugs are $39, made in the USA by an artists’ collective and hold 20 ounces of beer, bourbon or coffee.
These mugs are handmade, dishwasher-safe and a joy to use.
We also have a new bandana design available in our store. This bandana features construction drawings from one of the comb-back chairs in “The Stick Chair Book.” The bandana was designed by Tom Bonamici to look like a blueprint. These are printed by One Feather Press in Tennessee, which makes the nicest bandanas we have found. They are pre-washed, soft and crisp.
Please note that because of ongoing supply-chain problems, we may not be able to restock these items if we sell out of them before Christmas. So if you are considering these as a gift, act now to avoid disappointment or shipping delays (remember last year? We do).
My latest chair is a white oak backstool/armchair that is inspired by the chair that Bilbo Baggins sits in during the opening of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” This full-size chair is by no means a copy of that chair, however. Read on for details.
I really shouldn’t write about stave churches. First off, it’s really way too much for a blog post. Second, I’m not an expert. I’m just an awestruck fan. Also, there are doctoral theses, documentaries, articles, research projects, books, lectures, artworks and chock-full web pages that you can scroll through that will tickle your fancy for medieval woodworking. You can also find stave churches in our folklore and even fairy tales if you prefer a more mythical perspective. Then again, who needs all that when you have the Lost Art Press blog and a mediocre Norwegian chairmaker to tell you all about them? It’s just woodworking, after all!
I’m joking of course. I’m a complete moron compared to the people that built the stave churches. These buildings are all unique woodworking wonders that put on display some of the most incredible craftsmanship that existed in Europe during the Middle Ages. Along with our Viking ships, the stave churches are by far Norway’s largest and most important contribution to the World Heritage Sites. So if you ever come to Norway, forget about brown cheese and the midnight sun. Go to church instead!
A Brief History of Something Very Old
Research estimates that during the Middle Ages (ca. years 500-1500), somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 stave churches were built in Norway. They were probably also common throughout other parts of Northern Europe. However today there are only 30 left in the world. And 28 of them are in Norway. The other two are the Hedared Stave Church in Sweden and Vang Stave Church in Poland. The latter was built in the village of Vang, Norway, about 1150. In 1842 it was taken apart and transported to Poland, where it was rebuilt. And remember, this was before U-Haul.
The construction of stave churches abruptly ended in the 1400s. Most of them disappeared during the period from 1350-1650, possibly due to the Black Plague and the Protestant Reformation. The 28 churches left in Norway were all built somewhere between 1150 and 1350.
The name “stave church” derives from the wooden posts that were the load-bearing elements in these timber frame constructions. These posts were placed vertically on top of sleepers (horizontal beams) that were clamped between corners and larger posts that were placed into the ground. On top of the posts, new beams were placed. This created frames that were completed with raised boards. In the Old Norse language, a post in a timber frame construction was called a “stafr.” The name since evolved into the word “stav,” which is used today and means the same.
Picking Perfect Pine
Pine (Pinus sylvestris) has always been abundant in Norway. In dense forest they grow straight and tall, and usually with few branches along the stem. This made them perfect for Viking ships and stave churches. On top of these attributes, the Vikings were also extremely picky about the trees they used. They had a deep knowledge of how to exploit and even manipulate the trees into becoming perfect for their intended use.
They did this by first picking slow-growing mountain pines, often in the range of 200-300 years old. These trees had a much larger amount of heartwood, with very little space between the growth rings. They were then debranched and had their top cut off, before they were left standing for another 15-20 years. The resin then seeped into the heartwood and saturated it completely. The result was a highly resinous and dense heartwood. This is called ore-pine and is virtually rot-resistant. All the stave churches were built using this technique. The ore-pine was preferred for the main staves and beams, the wall boards and the roof tiles. Ore-pine is still widely used today in Norway in house construction and other areas.
Another ancient Scandinavian tradition is the use of pine tar for protecting wood against harsh weather conditions. The tar was made by stacking highly resinous pine heartwood under an airtight cover of clay and other materials, and then lighting the wood on fire. After burning for up to two days, the wood was decomposed into charcoal and pine tar. This was then smeared onto the stave churches to further prevent them against rot.
By Hand & Axe
No one really knows who built the stave churches and where they learned their craft. The distinct style is also up for debate. Some think they came to life during a period of cultural vacuum here in the north. Others believe that they are a result of imported traditions and culture from Europe. Some have argued that the stave churches are inspired by the Roman basilicas. Others again thought they sprung out of the old heathen hofs, which was the Old Norse term for pagan temples. While others insisted that they were built by trolls and other mythical creatures. I’m pretty sure someone will soon claim that Hillary Clinton and a bunch of aliens were the ones who really built them.
What we do know is that the churches were without nails and mostly without wooden pegs as well. Even the roof shingles were often laid without the use of pegs or nails. While some early stave churches had board roofs that were pegged, most churches built after year 1200 had tar-covered roof shingles. Using tar-covered shingles on outer walls was also a common practice.
The skilled people who built our stave churches used a wide range of tools. The most important were different types of axes, augers, plumb bobs and a set of tools that I really don’t know the English words for – the pjål, the skavl and the skjøve. While that may sound like the Norwegian title of a famous movie starring Clint Eastwood, I assure you it’s not. The pjål, also called veggskave (wall scraper) was a an edge tool fastened onto a long wooden shaft and was used two-handed in a scraping action along the wall boards to joint them and smooth axe marks. There were also special types of pjåls that were used for more ornamental shaping. The pjål probably came in many sizes and shapes.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Besides some technical and architectural variations, the stave churches are generally similar in both construction and ornamentation. Each church has portals decorated with carvings, some more than others. A common theme in these carvings is fighting dragons, lions and intricate vines. Researchers argue whether this iconography is pagan or not. The carvings do not have any direct biblical references. Despite this, some think that the iconography is a pagan interpretation of Christianity, which was a new thing during the time many of the churches were built. Norway was Christianized around year 1020. In any case, they are extremely impressive. In addition to the portals, there are intricate carvings and detailed decorations to be found all over the churches’ interiors, the staves themselves, walls and all around the churches.
Where Did They Go?
So, if the church builders were this meticulous about making the churches resistant against Norway´s rainy and cold coastal climate, why did so many of the stave churches disappear? According to the experts, most of them were taken down in order to build larger churches to house more people as the population grew. Fires, avalanches, storms and general decay were other reasons. In 1650, Norway had 270 stave churches left. Around 1800, the number was 95.
In 2001 most of the stave churches were in a bad state, so the Norwegian government started funding a project to renovate and preserve them better. The 28 left today are in good shape. They´re all open to visitors and some of them are still being used for religious services, weddings, funerals and other ceremonies.
So, unless you´re a satanic arsonist, suffer from ecclesiophobia or are afraid of trolls and Vikings, please come visit our stave churches. We need more woodworking tourists to counter all the ones that just want to take a fjord selfie.