I spent part of last weekend at a delightfully old house (Arcola Mills), watching a pair of delightful young-at-heart men (Jim and Mike) build the parts to a delightfully old piece of furniture (a Windsor chair) using delightfully old tools and techniques (riving tools, draw knives and shaving horses.)
The morning was full of one-line zingers that stuck in my brain. One was, "If you want to be a woodworker, you first have to be a metalworker," referring to the notion that you need to have sharp plane blades, chisels and other tools to get any woodworking done.
Another great line came after Jim and Mike used a riving tool and shaving horse to rough out a chair spindle. "Yep, after a day of doing that, people didn't head to the gym."
Another interesting notion was proposed: When folks moved from the old country to the new country they were usually allowed one chest to bring on the boat. GIven the sparseness of space, and the necessity of tools most people just brought the metal parts of their tools with them. The handles, plane bodies and other wooden parts were crafted upon arrival.
The main thrust of the day was cranking out parts for a WIndsor Chair. Spindles were crafted, legs were turned and hoop for chair backs bent.
While turning legs Mike began musing about "bodgers." There were a unique breed of men that turned chair legs for chair builders. Rather than hauling wood into a shop, then over to the chair makers, they found it more efficient to simply set up shop in the woods. They had their pole lathes, riving tools and planes in the great outdoors. It wasn't unusual for a bodger to crank out a gross (144) parts in a day. No need for the gym indeed.
|THE BENDING JOG-MOST LIKELY NOT OSHA-APPROVED|
Bending the hoop back was another highlight. Jim had a steamer concocted of PVC pipe, tubing, an old gas can and a propane burner.
After steaming the wood for 15 to 20 minutes, Mike and Jim bent the back over a form. I won't way their motions were like those of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but—given the 30 seconds they had to get the hoop out of the steamer and into the mold—moved in exact harmony to get the job done.
It was a thing of beauty—both in the making and in the final product.
For more information about Mike's woodworking school, visit schoolofwood.com
For more information about Arcola Mill, visit arcolamills.org