Make a Stool class at the Morris Arboretum!

Well I am exhausted!  3 days last week and a day and a half this week just to be ready to start!

and I had some watchers!

And there were 3 pair of Red Breasted Nuthatches nesting  in the room, they were NOT happy with me being there! they would fly in behind me, and then leave by flying in front of me to the opposite end of the room, land, and SCREAM at me and fly out. almost comical, and their little voices are loud in that enclosed space.  Sadly they were too quick to get a good picture of.

So:  Ready…Set…


We have Amur Beech for legs, and big pieces of Black Walnut to get slabs for seats out of.

I think I need to include more about tool selecting advice in the syllabus.  I don’t want to promote specific brands, but I also don’t want to  say the “X” brand is crap, even if it is. But even with just 5 students, too many junk new tools have shown up here.

Class went well, we got well along on making a leg (actually most of the students got 3  or 4 leg blanks axed out and well along with shaving a leg).  Not really far enough along to finish the stools by the end of class, but speed comes with time and practice.

be well all




Skills vs Skill Sets

table and vase 002
door casing corner bosses

Skill, what is a skill? They say that woodworkers have skills (or that woodworking is a skill), but what does that mean exactly?

I think of a skill as being the smallest part of a thing that can be taught. And as something that almost everyone can learn. And a skill set is a bundle of skills that go together to accomplish a task.

For instance: if we assume that woodworking is not a skill, but a skill set, it being made up of multiple skills, we can then start to break it down.

Sawing, Planing, Sharpening… but are those skills or just smaller skill sets?

Using a saw.. first you have to be able to choose the right saw, then you have to hold it correctly, and stand correctly, and move it correctly… we are approaching what I call skills, holding the saw correctly is a skill, positioning your feet right is a skill.

Of course in order to learn a skill first one must admit that one does not know it.. I’ve had several instances where I tried to teach someone how to use a hammer. and they would not accept that they were not holding it right, let alone swinging it wrong (IE not actually swinging it but punching with it).

Woodworking is a huge skill set when viewed this way. but there is good news! each skill is learnable and teachable, and skills transfer…. when you saw and when you handplane your stance (where your feet are) is different.. and yet the ideas that go into foot position are related, and your feet are still your feet after all. So it becomes easy to change from comfortable stance for sawing to comfortable stance for planning. And the more skills you learn… well they add up in a way that makes it easier to add new ones. And as you keep adding skills you think less and less about them until they become automatic. Then, picking up a new skill sets becomes easy.

be well


Creativity: some thoughts

Humans are essentially creative. We have an ability to imagine something that does not exist, and work to make it real. Look at everything around you, your clothes and your house, everything! You are a member of the most amazing species that has ever walked the planet, we make things.

From the first stone tools, proof of our creativity is in everything that we do. In fact the making of the earliest stone tools is what archaeologists and anthropologists consider the first step to becoming US. We can imagine! We can imagine things that don’t exist and then work towards bringing it into existence. Every act of making something is a part of this. This is an amazing ability!

So when someone says to me “I wish I was creative like you” I tell them they are. We all are.

But our jobs and our lives seem almost designed to squash that creativity. No one wants creative solutions to car repair when it’s their car being fixed. No one wants creative billing or creative bookkeeping. Factory workers need to do the same thing day after day, creativity is sometimes encouraged if it makes the work go faster but mostly it is squashed and stifled.

This makes many of us stressed and sad and angry all at once. We go home after “work” and we are sad, and angry and we don’t know why. Businesses owners and zoning laws act like they think we should go home from our soul crushing jobs and sit in front of the TV doing only what is required to survive, and come back to work tomorrow and be refreshed and happy about our NOT working for 4 hours a day.

Society (before TV at least) used to encourage people to be productive doing something during every waking hour. Of course it also encouraged people to work in factories 20 hours a day at some times (read up on Henry Ford). The whole point of Daylight Savings time is that you go home after work and have more hours of sunlight after your job, in which to do other productive things, like grow vegetables, attend your knitting, or work in your shed on whatever needed doing.

Even before Daylight Savings Time nearly everyone who wasn’t wealthy spent the whole of their waking hours doing something, knitting weaving, carving, etc. There were chores, those tasks that had to be done every day, and there was work that continued (like spinning thread, or wood carving) that you filled in the rest of the time with.

After the industrial revolution there was no need for every woman to be constantly spinning or weaving every day, or knitting, or for filling his “extra” hours making the odd bit of handraft for sale. So the crafts dwindled into near obscurity. But eventually, For people who could afford it, this lead to “Hobbies”. Knitting, spinning, weaving, woodcrafts, and other hand work evolved into hobbies for the middle class. The poorest classes don’t “do” hobbies, working to hard and too exhausted to do much when they got home. Our richest people don’t do hobbies, unless you want to categorise something like collecting race cars as a hobby.

50 years ago (when I was a wee lad) there was not only the traditional crafts as hobbies, there were electronics (make your own radios or TVs, do any of you remember Heathkit?),  model trains, model airplanes or boats, or leather crafts etc. But the burst in the revival of crafts that happened in the 1960s somehow turned crafts into namby pamby “arts and crafts’ (do not mix it up with the 1890s Arts and Crafts movement) that the very mention of sends teenagers and adults running away. And the providers of materials and kits in a great part stopped making kits and started selling completed items. Find a hobby shop that has airplanes now, the RC planes are all ready made, you just go somewhere and fly them, the RC cars that used to be kits come with modification packages but they too are ready to go.

Everything seems arranged to discourage any “do it yourself” attitude. As if the insidious “THEY” want us to just sit still and behave when we aren’t “at work”. Even the big hardware and lumber yard stores that seem to thrive on promoting “do it yourself” have things arranged to encourage you not to do it yourself.. hire our guys instead!

Not being allowed to express our creativity leads to stress, sadness, anger, frustration, depression, violence, isolation, drinking, and obesity. Yes, I am setting nearly all of society’s woes directly at the feet of this whole apparent trend to discourage our creativity.

So it’s time to take up arms! Take up your knitting needles, your carving gouges, your spinning wheels and your axes! Go out there and show the world what you do! Teach anyone who asks. ANYONE! If they say they don’t have time, ask them if they have any 10 minute time during their day when they are doing nothing? If they do then they have time! (sitting on a bus or train for 10 min to 1/2 hour? you have time to take up knitting) it matters not that they follow a pattern that 10,000 other people have done. It’s the doing and the feeling of having done it. The point is that it’s not really imposed on them by a “job”. Its their choice, and then it’s their work.

then it’s “I DID THIS!”

we can make the world a better place one person at a time…

be well

a postscript: I should note that I know that the overall number of people actively engaged in various crafts and hobbies is Up. But also that the percentage of the population engaged in those activities is way down. There is currently a surge in interest in the woodcrafts going on and while I don’t think the crafts needs more people, the people certainly need more crafts, real crafts, developing real skills. A skill set like spoon carving isn’t going to make anyone wealthy, but it certainly has the capacity to make their lives better.

more prep for class ( make a stool)

A week ago I went up to the Morris Arboretum to look at what they had that we could make into stools. The oficial Arborist (Andrew Hawks) was very helpful and we picked out some nice walnut that would otherwise just sit there and rot or get cut up for firewood.

Yesterday I went back up to split the bolts (butts?) in half and seal the ends so they wouldn’t dry too much and I brought back a few chunks to work on myself, and I need some stuff to use for the Demo I will be doing there on Arbor day (or the day after?) and I thought having a finished stool from the same wood my students will be using would be a good idea.

so splitting some in my driveway:


a little twist but not too bad. then the next half had a “prize” inside!


we work with what we can get…

the two love birds were cooing and canoodling on the picnic table (mourning doves):


too much sun…

and I thought today I’d get out this one… it hasn’t been used since 2014, it’s bigger than all of my others and has no maker’s mark:


13 3/4″ blade and 22″ between the handles, useful on the wide stock. (it had no handles when I found it.)

and today after 2 hours of chopping and shaving I have 3 stool top blanks roughed out:


the bark seems tightly attached so I’m thinking of leaving it on, still debating that.

(what a mess! I should get one of the apprentices to clean that up! lol)

be well.


Order of Operations vs Order of Learning

The Order of Operations for any production is simply the order in which you do things. But the order in which we learn things is not the same order (usually). However in recent years it has been common to teach classes, especially in woodworking, that teach what to do, in the order that you do it, in order to have a class oriented around making an object (chair, spoon, bowl etc).

It’s simple really: you can’t spend a full day teaching about wood specie and characteristics if you are going to get the chairs all made by Friday. But if it were a college class or a class setup for actually learning the whole craft, you would spend much more than a day on the wood. Instead we simply go with “for the back you want Oak, Ash, or Hickory, and for the seat something easy to carve or more of the same log that you have”, done. We don’t take time to really get into whys and wherefores and options.

Take your drawknife for example. There numerous styles, and bevel up or bevel down knives. Why? I have about 15 minutes to show how to use one and then get the class to sit down and start using the ones they brought with them, or one of my loaners, none of which is the same. If I really want to teach them all about drawknives I would need at least half a day. The same with the axes and the spokeshaves and every other tool that we use.

All of teaching woodworking has ended up like this. The students want the “let’s all make this thing” orientation. It’s easy to see why, instead of finishing the class empty handed but knowing more, you finish the class with this thing you take home. Yet many of the students just don’t know enough at the end of the class.

It shows when someone later asks… “can I do this thing with ash, all I can get is ash and you said to do the thing with oak and we used oak in the class” etc. If the discussion of wood selection were more in depth they wouldn’t have to ask.

Fell the tree, cut up useful lengths, split it to useful sections, use the ax to even out dimensions, drawknife to square, drawknife to octagon, etc day one done.

Where was the time to talk about stewardship of our woodlands? The time to talk about all of the varying qualities of all of the types of wood available and how they compare to each other? The time to talk about what you want in an axe, and all of the riving tools, how does a Hudson Bay axe differ from a Kent axe, my students don’t know but they should. There is so much missed in this way of teaching.

I would like to see a class where I teach with a more classical approach to teaching. Where the teaching order is arranged not by project but by the subject. Where we do spend a day talking about stewardship of the land and about the woods that are available. Where I spend some time talking about the history of the craft and the changes to the tools over the centuries. And at least an hour about each of the tools, before we try to use the tools. Then instead of making one thing we make many things. we start with simple (to point of being crude, well, maybe rustic), and we end by making something complicated or difficult. Those students would be woodworkers when we were done.

I’m musing on this while taking a break from editing my course syllabus for the class that I will be teaching in May this year at the Morris Arboretum, look under Creative Expressions. It’s the “Build a Stool! Intro- Green Woodworking Techniques” class. I fear that three 2Hr sessions will not be enough time… I feel rushed.

be well

Prototyping box looms

Ok, so I talk a lot (mostly) about green woodworking. and mostly about using hand tools. But for the better part of 30 years I was all about power tools and such. Not at home so much but at work. I still own a table saw and band saw, a 12″ planer, an OSS, a lathe, a 4″jointer, etc.

Add to this; I like to make the equipment that other people use to make things with, like potters wheels, looms, book presses etc. So when a friend tries to convinced me that I could make good money making box looms. And that no one is providing nice little box looms to the weaving community at large. I have to give it a go. after all I need the money. (don’t we all?) I have never made a box loom before.

So we did some Research on line to see what was out there, and how much other people were asking for them… not much and too much.

The results of the research visually:

loom box tapea

many of the makers list their box looms as being sold out, and they have been sold out for a long time…

At its simplest it is a box, doesn’t need a bottom, two sides about 4 to 5 inches tall and 12 to 14 inches long and connected by 2 pieces that separate them about 5 inches. and 2 rollers to unwind the warp strands and wind up the finished weave.

and then i see something like this, and the “artist” is asking $200 for it. It was made of Pine. it had a headle with it.

loom box tape

but is that, made of pine, “worth” that much money?

granted it will probably take a whole day just to make a headle. but if I can’t make something at least as nice in half a day…

And a lot of these weavers want to use them for tablet weaving… or so I’m told.

so off to the shop (aka my cellar) find some wood that I can use up and see what I can do…

1 day later

I quite like these two shapes. I sloshed some BIN primer on them so that we are not looking at the wood but at the form etc. realistically the one on the right only takes about 1/2 hour longer to cut out and sand.

Each one took less than a half day. Right off the top I will tell you that I think the solid bottom is better because you can drop your weaving stuff (shuttle, comb etc) into it and not worry about where it got to. the one on the left is more like some medieval illustrations, but not exactly like any of them. The one on the right is very like a form that was popular 200 years ago in some Scandinavian region…

I’ll send them to the weavers tomorrow for test runs.

be well