Spring pole lathe class, Woodwright’s School

I first got interested in hand tools by watching a very different woodworking show that came on after Norm.  At first I was a bit mystified–hmm, he never seems to finish anything, but does show you the various steps of a project.  He has a folksy approach to teaching you about the subject matter, but often wove literature and history into the show.  And it was all human powered work.  It didn’t really occur to me until later that the entire show was filmed in *one take*–that was one of those head slappers.  The show, as you might have guessed, was “The Woodwright’s Shop” with Roy Underhill, and I didn’t realize I was watching my future hobby on those Saturday mornings.

At the time I was living in New Mexico, sharing a house with my brother but without any space for Normite machines.  My other brother and my dad had taken a few classes at the local Shopsmith shop (since closed), and despite what I was seeing on Roy’s show, based on their experience I was convinced I needed about 5 or 6 massive machines to make any project and an outlay of several thousands of dollars in machinery.  So, I never did any woodworking in New Mexico.  Then I moved to California where my apartment held my clothes, bed, and a small kitchen and not much else.  Still no woodworking.  No New Yankee Workshop, and no Woodwright’s Shop either, because I had changed careers and had no time to bother with TV–all my free time was spent working on the computer.  Or taking lessons and practicing flamenco guitar, but that is another story.

When I moved back to Connecticut to help my parents as they got older, I suddenly had access to a wealth of space, a Shopsmith, and lots of easily accessible wood.  But a strange thing happened–with my years of computer work, I didn’t really want to ‘program’ a machine for my hobby, so I got a japanese pull saw, a single 1/4″ chisel and some HD poplar to make my first project, a little box to hold some tools.  I made it with dovetailed corners (nice and gappy), put on a hideous finish, and it still gets knocked around for every class I take.

What does this have to do with my class?  Well, it was the mindset that lead me to Roy’s school.  Yes, I could make a lot of furniture with massive machines.  Perhaps get an electrician to re-wire the basement shop, get a massive air cleaner and dust collection system, but I decided I wanted to get closer to the work and to acquire tools as I needed them for projects.  My auction trips have sort of short-circuited the latter idea, but …

We started right in with Roy giving us a demonstration on his lathe.  Then we all started our projects with some basic measurements off the master lathe and the .pdf Roy had sent us.  Glad I brought my iPhone–I could look at the pdf and zoom in on measurements as needed.  For this first day our goal was to get the mortises for the two bed rails and the lower stretcher completed, then the tenons cut on the rails and stretchers, such that we would have a standing frame.  On each bench we had southern yellow pine stock cut to correct length with one jointed edge.  Roy suggested we use that jointed edge not only as the reference surface but also orient it facing the lathe operator for the uprights and as the upper part of the bed rails and stretcher.

We then laid out the mortises and began to define them with the 1″ mortise chisel (Two Cherries, which worked pretty well).  Roy supplied these and all the tools, though I did use my own saws for much of the sawing.  Usually when making a mortise, I only bother to define the ends and one edge, letting the tool define the other edge, but here you can see I marked both edges.  Whack, whack, move the chisel.  Repeat.  As suggested it got pretty loud in there, so I put in some ear proection.  We just did one pass, then used the edge of the chisel to lift out much of the waste and cleaned up with the bevel down.  Flip the piece and again define the end of the mortise.  We then used an auger bit and brace to remove most of the waste, then clean up with the chisel.  I’ve never made through mortises before, but other than defining both ends of the mortise, it is pretty similar to how I’ve down mortises in the past.

The next operation was cutting the tenons on the bed rails and stretcher.  We only had one rip cut to make for the cheek and a shoulder cut, but they were pretty long.  A few people used a shoulder cut with the saw, then a chisel to whack out most of the waste, with a few passes getting closer and closer to the line, finally paring the last remaining waste.  I tried using the chisel, but honestly felt better ripping the cheek.  At first I used my back saw, but darn yellow pine is some tough wood, so with Roy’s suggestion I switched to my 6 pt rip saw.  I must admit, I’ve never cut joinery with a big hand saw, so I left the cut pretty rank and planned to pare down with a chisel.  But my timidity sort of caught up with me as I spent waaaay too much time trying to get that cheek to the correct width to fit my mortises.  And because of the size of the pieces, it really became a bit of a pain to pare pare pare, test fit, curse a bit when it was still too thick, and repeat.  I had to do this about 4-5 times for each of the six tenons.  Each fit quite well, but since we were going to wedge them, I probably could have gotten away with being more of a sawing hero and split the line.

We all got to basically the same stage at the end of the first day, which was right on schedule as far as Roy was concerned.

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