Sunday, June 3, 2012

CHS Traditional Craft Day

How much stuff does it take to do a demo? My van after picking up Freddy.

Yesterday Freddy Roman, Micky Callahan, and I participated in the Traditional Craft Day demonstrations at Connecticut Historical Society, where the current SAPFM exhibit A Tradition of Craft runs until September 8. Unfortunately, it rained all day, so they had to cancel the blacksmith demonstration, and we setup in their indoor activity area.

When mounting any military operation, the decision must be made whether to go in light or go in heavy. I've always been a go-in-heavy kind of guy. I would rather have too much stuff than find I wished I had brought something.

I brought two portable workbenches, Moxon vise, shaving horse, a quarter section of recently-felled oak log, portable toolbox, carving vise, portable sharpening station, sawbench and horse, finished Queen Anne foot stool, and a bin of assorted stuff like demo wood, clamps, shooting board, saw sharpening vise, and first aid kit.

Freddy brought his bench-raiser, some legs to be inlaid, inlay supplies, a toolbag, and a side table in-progress. We were loaded for bear.

I brought the log and shaving horse to demonstrate green woodworking techniques because the exhibition included several Windsor chairs. I could let people try working the wood this way, then send them upstairs to look at Nick Kotula's yellow-painted chair. I like to point out that this is at least 500-year-old technology, just with some modern incarnations of the tools.

The log came from a friend's yard in Duxbury, MA, next to Peter Follansbee's hometown of Kingston, which I thought was fitting. It wasn't the ideal stock to work with due to some knots, but it served well enough for demonstration purposes.

I also demonstrated making cabriole legs for another stool, but only got as far as roughing out two sides of one leg blank.

Splitting the quarter log section with a froe out in the parking lot in the rain. I further split these down into sixteenths, suitable for visitors to rive into sample chair parts. The two tree trunks in the background made a good riving brake. Photo by Freddy Roman.

A steady stream of visitors came in throughout the day. A number of them were families with young kids. I love getting the kids involved, because everyone thinks they can't do it, including them.

Several of the parents and staff had some concerned looks on their faces as the kids handled tools and set them down none too gently, obviously worried about safety and damage. I limited the kids primarily to handling the spokeshave, since I consider that one of the safest edge tools, lightweight with limited edge exposure. I let a couple try the drawknife after watching them work and warning them to hold it only by the handles.

After 9 years as a Boy Scout adult leader, I'm used to giving kids freedom to explore while keeping a close eye out for safety. In Scouts we would teach 11-year-olds to handle axe and saw, knife and match safely. We would take them swimming, boating, and climbing, as well as camping in the dead of New England winter. At Scout Camp they teach them how to handle bow and arrow, rifle, and shotgun safely. 

The world is full of risks and dangerous things and ways to get hurt, and I think it's important to teach kids how to interact with them safely. Teach them proper skills and give them opportunities to put that knowledge to use. Like the "trust but verify" of nuclear detente, trust but supervise.

One of the first visitors of the day, Doran Shenk, taking oak curls with a spokeshave on the shaving horse.

Some of the kids were too small to reach the pedal of the shaving horse, so I stood next to it with my foot on the pedal as I guided their hands. I also had a number of them rive wood off the oak splits with the froe and maul. That was a big hit! How often do kids go to a museum where someone tells them "Harder, harder, hit it harder!"

Riving off the sapwood after having riven off the pith. Photo by Freddy Roman.

This young gentleman didn't want to try it at first, but after seeing his friends have fun with it, he gave it a try. Pretty quickly he was smiling and didn't want to stop. You can see a walnut cabriole leg blank in the Moxon vise on my bench behind him.

Showing some visitors how to sharpen a saw and set the teeth, after explaining the difference between rip and crosscut. Photo by Stan Tetrault.

My last visitor of the day was a boy named Joel, who was fascinated by it all. I expect to see his woodworking website in a few years. After trying the spokeshave and drawknife, I pulled my toolbox over for him to stand on so he could try out all my planes as I explained the different function of each. Then he wanted to try the brace and bit. His mother said they have some old tools around the house, but they need to be cleaned up.

Joel learning how the lead screw pulls the bit through the wood without needing to apply any pressure. He's using a Spofford brace made in Bridgeport, CT less than a decade after the Civil War. 

My apologies to Freddy and Mickey, I meant to get photos of them at work but never got a chance to. The final tally on visitors was 178, which the museum staff said was excellent for a Saturday.


  1. Looks like a great time, Steve. I wish I could have made it up for the day.

  2. Steve, sounds like you were having as much fun as the future woodworkers! Love what you are doing.

  3. Sounds great Steve! I love you young boys enthusiasm! That's what it's all about. Bravo to you.


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