Sunday, September 29, 2013

CVSW Open House And LN Hand Tool Event 2013

Some of the beautiful student work on display, showing the type of projects covered in CVSW courses.

Last Saturday I represented the Society of American Period Furniture Makers at Bob Van Dyke's Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. This was their combined Open House and Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event.

For the Open House, Bob had a display of student work and instructors doing demonstrations. There were also several local vendors and used tool dealers. The Hand Tool Event was setup in the other half of the large main classroom.

It was a gorgeous fall day, so rather than trying to cram everyone inside, the dealer tables and several demonstrators were setup outside in the back parking lot. That's where I had my bench. It clouded up and started to sprinkle mid-afternoon, so most of the dealers packed up for the day and I moved inside.

I spent the day doing a variety of random demonstrations as people came up and asked questions. As always, I encouraged people to try out the tools.

I showed rough stock breakdown on the sawbench, resawing with a ripsaw, sawing out curves with a bowsaw and turning blade, shaping a cabriole leg with spokeshave, gouges, and rasp on my Al Breed carving vise, sharpening chisels on my portable sharpening station, sharpening and using a card scraper, squaring and flattening stock in preparation for dovetails, and making half-blind dovetails.

Since I need more practice with the latter, I spent most of my time when I wasn't talking to someone doing repeated half-blind joints, cutting them off and doing them again.

Several woodworking acquaintances said hello, Rick Roberts, Bill Rittner, and Ralph Boumenot, a frequent commenter here (you can read his post on the day here).

Nick Kotula told me about the class he's offering on understanding period furniture styles, where he visits the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and other area museums to examine their exhibits. An experienced professional furniture maker, he also offers other classes in design and properties of wood. If you're interested, you can contact him at 860-243-1646 or

Ben Blackmar stopped by to tell me about his new job. I first met him briefly on a tour of North Bennet St. School in Boston, where he was a student, then later at the Furniture Expo at the New England Home Show. He's not big on fanfare, so I'll just congratulate him and wish him luck. You can be sure you'll be seeing more of him.

This is Michael, 8 and a half years old, trying out my LN Brian Boggs spokeshave. Everyone loves this tool. He spent about 15 minutes making curls with it, then figured out the mechanical interlock as I made a dovetail joint.

I just managed to get pictures of a few of the people demonstrating. There was a lot going on!

CVSW instructor Walt Scadden demonstrating blacksmithing. He was the primary blacksmith during the construction of the replica of the historic schooner Amistad at Mystic Seaport.

LN demonstrator Michelle, right, shows a young man how to setup a bevel-up plane.

SAPFM Co-founder and CVSW instructor Mickey Callahan demonstrates carving.

Mike Pekovich, Fine Woodworking magazine art director, also teaches classes at CVSW.

Tico Vogt demonstrating his Super Chute 2.0 shooting board with the new No-Rock Runway.

As we were packing up at the end of the day, I tried out Tico Vogt's new product. This is the No-Rock Runway, which really does eliminate any chance of the shooting plane rocking in use. This thing is solid, making the Super Chute the Cadillac of shooting boards. It's not yet available on his his website, but will be soon.

A Super Chute with No-Rock Runway, and Lie-Nielsen #51 Shoot Board plane setup on the special carriage to match the runway.

But planemaker Ron Brese has taken this even further, turning it into the Ferrari of shooting boards. He's designed a shooting plane specifically for this setup, the 125-38 Shooting Board Plane. The combination is absolutely awesome.

Wrap the web of your thumb around the handle and your fingers around the body and give it a push; at 10lbs., this thing has the mass to power smoothly through the cut. It feels like a monster with 3/8" steel sole and 1/4" sides, and is appropriately nicknamed the Brute.

Ron Brese's Brute on a No-Rock Runway. The photo can't capture the feeling of raw power in your hand as you push it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

West Bridgewater Walnut

Paul Lelito's walnut tree in West Bridgewater, MA. All photos by Paul.

I met Paul Lelito two years ago at the Society of American Period Furniture Maker's New England Chapter April meeting, held at his sawmill at the Magnolia Cranberry Bog in Marion, MA. He's a former arborist and environmental consultant who now saws specialty lumber for a living.

When he was in his early 20's, he worked for Maltby and Co., a tree trimming and removal company in Stoughton, MA. They had a sawmill where they processed the trees they cut into lumber. Paul started woodworking using this lumber. He's maintained a relationship with them for 40 years.

He used to go up in the crane and look around the area for walnut trees. When he found one, he would go to the property owner and offer to cut it for free for the wood should they ever need to take it down.

This is the story of one of those trees that has finally come to fruition. Paul first saw this tree back then and has had an eye on it those 40 years. It grew on a flat spot in a small valley protected from the winds, so it was straight with no twist or tension wood.

While his patience impressed me, I was even more impressed by the story of cooperation behind this tree. This is the best of what Sam Sherrill writes about in his book Harvesting Urban Timber: A Guide to Making Better Use of Urban Trees.

This tree was a large one that had survived decades of winter storms well. But the area has been growing, and the lot was slated for redevelopment 4 years ago; it's still in the permit process. Normally a tree like this would be bulldozed and chipped and go into a landfill, since the developer's interest is simply in clearing the way for construction.

Fortunately, one of the neighbors had a business that had been a client of Paul's consulting service. The neighbor was aware of Paul's interest in the tree and contacted Paul when he saw the "For Sale" sign on the lot.

Paul contacted the property owner about the walnut, but the land was already under agreement with a developer, so he couldn't authorize its removal. The developer actually knew Paul as an environmental consultant, but was unaware of his interest in woodworking.

The developer sent Paul a copy of the landscaping plan and Paul identified the tree. However, he couldn't authorize removal either, since he wasn't the property owner yet. So the tree was in limbo.

Paul communicated back and forth with the owner and the developer over time, and the owner agreed to have the tree removed, since the developer wasn't interested in it. The owner required that the job be done by a professional with a certificate of insurance, and sent Paul a letter of permission.

Either of these parties could have said no or ignored Paul, but they chose to work with him. They recognized that they had a valuable resource that shouldn't be wasted, given someone who knew how to use it. The only thing they asked in return was to see pictures of the furniture made from it.

Late this past January, Paul had Maltby send a crew out and cut the tree down. This was definitely a job for experienced professionals. The span of the branches was 80' from drip edge to drip edge. The usable main trunk was about 32' tall, 60" across at the butt end. This required serious equipment, a crane truck and large chainsaws.

After cutting the branches and limbs, much of which will go to the neighbors for firewood, the arborist prepares to secure the crane line to the top of the trunk.

Cutting off the upper section. This contains some nice crotch wood where the large branches were.

Lowering the upper section to the ground.

Lifting out the lower section. Note the bowl-cut base, where the chainsaw has been plunged in repeatedly around the circumference. This maximizes the wood and captures the highly figured parts where the roots meet the trunk.

The two sections ready for loading.

Loading the upper section, 18' long.

Loading the lower section, 14' long, 39" across at the narrow end, 60" at the butt end. This will yield excellent wide, straight-grained lumber. Wouldn't a piece of this make an awesome conference table?

Once the truck was loaded and secure, the Maltby driver went from West Bridgewater to Berkshire Products in Sheffield, MA, pretty much from one end of the state to the other.

Berkshire Products has a large-capacity bandsaw mill, where they specialize in milling logs into large sequential slabs. Because the mill needs straight sections, they cut the upper log into 8' and 10' sections where it had a crook, then milled everything up. The video below shows some of the action.

They ended up with 3 sequential log sets, in thicknesses of 8/4, 6/4, and 5/4, up to 40" wide. One thing that Paul stipulated in the log handling was that they not use a grapple, only slings to gently lower the sections. This preserved the integrity of the bark so they could leave clean natural edges. Paul also salvaged some of the crotchwood from the larger branches for milling up on his mill.

They loaded the slabs up and took them back across the state to Paul's site in Marion the same day. He's stickered the log sets for drying in a covered open shelter where they'll need to season for at least 2 years. However, the lumber is now available for sale while still green if you'd like to dry it yourself.

Paul has invested a lot of time, effort, and money to make this unique large-slab local walnut available. This is for people who want something nobody else has. If you're interested in purchasing some, you can contact him at 508-451-9999 (cell) or 508-563-2000 (home/shop), or via email at

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Woodcraft Classes Fall 2013

Having ripped and crosscut the larger board down, the student ripping a small piece down the middle. These are third-class cuts: just get the job done, don't worry about accuracy or appearance.

This past Sunday I taught a class on using handsaws, handplanes, and chisels at Woodcraft in Woburn, MA. This was a whirlwind tour of the basic skills to break down and dimension lumber and start on joinery. There were three students signed up, but two didn't make it (must've been the Patriots game), so the third got a private class.

I currently have two more classes scheduled for the year:
  • Sharpening: Planes, Chisels, and Saws, Sunday, October 6, 2:00-5:00 PM, $89.
  • Hand Made Mortising, Sunday, December 8, 1:30-4:30 PM, $89.
If you'd like to sign up, contact the store at 781-935-6414, or email And if there are some specific classes you'd be interested in taking, it's worth contacting them and letting them know. Half the challenge of scheduling classes is knowing what people want to take.

Resawing one of the halves, another third-class cut.

Planing the face, the first step of the FEWTEL sequence (Face, Edge, Width, Thickness, End, Length).

Jointing the edge.

Shooting the end with his Lie-Nielsen low-angle block plane.

A second class cut: sawing down the cheek of a lap joint. This has to be accurate for proper fit, but will mostly be hidden.

A first class cut: sawing the shoulder. This has to look good as well as be accurate.

Cleaning the waste out of a dado.

The advantage of doing these things by hand is that you can turn any space into a temporary or permanent workshop. A spare room, a corner of the basement, porch, garage, a garden shed.

This is a great alternative if you don't have access to power tools. Or you can do it just for the pure fun.

Friday, September 6, 2013

September 21 Weekend Events

Friday and Saturday, September 20th and 21st, are busy this year here in New England. There are several events worth attending if you're in the area; you'll just have to make the hard choice of which one to go to!

First, I'll be representing the Society of American Period Furniture Makers on Saturday at Bob Van Dyke's Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, CT. I'll be doing hand tool demonstrations at the school's combined Open House and Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event. The entire event runs Friday and Saturday.

CVSW offers a fantastic lineup of classes from a fantastic lineup of instructors. This is a chance to see the school, meet some of the instructors, see other demonstrators and vendors, and try out the full line of LN tools, some of the finest hand tools currently made. In addition, Saturday includes over 18 tables of antique tools for sale.

SAPFM co-founder Mickey Callahan and SAPFM Cartouche Award winner Will Neptune, both CVSW instructors, will be there. To give you an idea of what the Cartouche Award means, that's something I might hope to achieve after 20 more years of active woodworking.

Mike Pekovich and Matt Kenney of Fine Woodworking magazine will be there, as well as Tico VogtMatt Cianci, and Bill Rittner, among others.

Second, Phil Lowe and Freddy Roman will be holding the first meeting of a free 6-part furniture project series for the SAPFM New England Chapter at Phil's Furniture Institute of Massachusetts on Saturday starting at 9. The project is a Seymour night stand. Contact Freddy at for more information.

Third, the annual Fall Live Free or Die Antique Tool Auction runs Friday and Saturday at the Holiday Inn in Nashua, NH. This is the premier antique tool sale in the area. In addition to the auction inside, the parking lot is crammed with vendors featuring an amazing selection of tools. The prices range from a few dollars into the thousands. Early morning is the best time.

Fourth, the Guild of New Hampshire Woodworkers Annual Meeting is in Bow, NH. This year their featured speaker is Jon Binzen, Fine Woodworking Senior Editor. Like SAPFM, GNHW is an excellent resource for woodworkers of all skill levels, professional and amateur. They have a number of interest groups that hold regular meetings and presentations.

Membership in both SAPFM and GNHW is very reasonable, and both offer excellent member publications as well as access to great information, people, and events.