Greenwood Week with Eric Cannizzaro & Elia Bizzarri

I’m excited to be teaching this class again.  It’s the kind of woodworking I love best, and I love getting to share it.  And I’m especially excited to be teaching with Eric Cannizzaro again – he’s an excellent chairmaker, a good teacher and a really nice guy.  I’ve never been to his shop before, but he’s spent the last couple years improving it and it sounds really nice.  Here’s the class description:

Spend a week working wood as nature intended. We’ll begin with a walk in the woods and learn how to identify several useful tree species and how to pick a good tree for green woodworking projects. Then we will return to the shop to split and rive parts from an ash log to start our first project. A variety of projects will teach us how to exploit wood’s strengths and weaknesses for our benefit. Emphasis will be placed on learning fundamentals that can be applied to a variety of projects, green or dry. Projects options include spoons, pitch forks, brooms, firewood carriers, tool handles, fan birds sharpening and other projects useful and otherwise. A pole lathe will be on hand for fun and turning.

The class takes place at Eric Cannizzaro’s shop in Charlotte, Vermont.  The class is open to 8 students.  We will also offer a work-study position to someone for whom money is a barrier.

GREENWOOD WEEK, June 10th to 14th, 2024 – $1000

For more information, visit the Greenwood Week page.

Eric’s Shop

read more…

Of Chair Design and Chair Classes

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog.  It seems that spending hours each day sitting in front of a computer writing a book,  limits my motivation for sitting in front of a computer writing a blog post. Oh well. The book is coming along great – I have a few small sections to write, a few hundred photos to take and I’m waiting on Lost Art Press to read it and tell me else I should do.  I’m glad they’re busy.  I am too.

There’s been lots of unexpected rabbit holes.  They are all fun.  The biggest one has been trying to work out how Samuel Wing designed the chair.  I sat down one night six months ago with a pair of compasses and, within an hour, realized that his seat were designed with classical proportioning:  all the major arcs of the seat periphery were related to each other and to the overall size of the seat.  Several weeks of work followed trying to figure out what it meant.  I sent several emails calling for help, filled with photos like this:

Mack Headley, former master cabinetmaker at Colonial Williamsburg, responded with this:

I found your diagnosis compelling. The numbers add up to some potential patterns. 15”/6=2.5”x5=12.5”/2=6.25″

I scratched my head for awhile and asked if I could come for a visit.

At the beginning of January I drove to Richmond, visited friends and ate the best Chinese food of my life, then drove to Mack’s shop where he and his wife promptly fed me lunch. After four hour’s work, we came up with this:

A vast  step forwards.  We’re still working on it though.  When we’re done, you should be able to draw the entire seat pattern on a blank sheet of paper using nothing more than a rule, square and five or six compass settings and be done in fifteen minutes.  On my way home I stopped at Colonial Williamsburg and visited with Brian Weldy at the joiner’s shop and spent a couple hours in the collection looking at loop back joints  (there’s more options than I can count).

Back home, I did a demo at the state history museum:

And got ready for my first 18th Century Chairmaking class (or at least the first one anyone has paid for):

Eric Cannizzaro came to hang out and make pitch forks: read more…

Wheelbarrow Making Class Photos

Last week’s wheelbarrow making class with Peter Ross was a great success.  And a lot of fun.

First everyone spent a day moving my firewood around, so they could learn the proper use of a wheelbarrow. (I’m mostly kidding.)

My mentor Curtis Buchanan took the class, which was really wonderful.

“I’d like to go home and make another wheel,” Curtis said on the last night. I offered him some wheel wood the next morning as he was loading up, but he’d come to his senses by them. Once a chairmaker, always a chairmaker.

Peter Ross brought a couple forges and everyone made brackets for their wheelbarrows.

We cooked the tires in a fire…

…and hammered them onto their wheels….

…then quick, before it catches fire….

…quench the tire in a vat of water.

Texas chairmaker Blake Loree even got his wheel mounted and took his son for a test drive.

All done! (thanks to Roy Underhill for the photo)

It’s round!

I’ve been getting ready for the wheelbarrow class in a couple weeks, including building some test wheels. Here’s a finished wheel:

Oops! Wrong photo!  Here’s a finished wheel:

Well, at least the wooden parts are done – now it’s off to Peter Ross’s to shrink the tire on. Making wheels is really fun! I’ve learned a lot (I’ve only made a handful of wheels in my life). One of the best ways to learn is by watching people who know what they are doing, and the people who know the most are people working in a centuries-long craft tradition. There may not be wheelwrights like that in the states, I don’t know. Some other cultures tend to hold onto their traditions much longer than highly-industrialized America, so I’ve been video hunting on YouTube. This one made me realize that workbenches are mostly for people who can’t squat – the ground is a better bench than anything we can make:

Pretty amazing work, without many measurements. In fact, there’s so much skill in this video that there’s not much to see; just a guy squatting on the ground, chopping. The way they put the tire on is plenty of show for the whole video, however.

This video was highly enlightening:

The best part is at the 11-minute mark: after chopping the hub mortises and cutting the tapering spoke tenons (complete with locking notches), they boil the hubs in a vat, then drive the spokes into the softened hub. The hub must mold itself to the shape of the spokes, locking the spokes in place. Amazing! Makes me wonder if some of the locking joints that have puzzled me for so long on 18th Century ladderback chairs were boiled in a similar way. I must try it.

I love learning!

18th Century Loop Back Chairmaking Class

Boy, I’ve been busy!  I taught a wonderful class with Eric Cannizzaro at Penland, NC in July, building Jennie Alexander ladderback chairs.  Then my wife Morgan and I toured around for ten days, visiting family, friends and Lost Art Press in Cincinnati.  Now I’m at home making reamers for Handworks where Seth is setting up a booth to show our tools (come visit him!).  I’m also building wheelbarrow prototypes for my class with Peter Ross in October and finishing three or four chairs I have on order.  And figuring out how Samuel Wing’s early 19th century chair seats were designed with a ruler, compass and a few ratios derived from classical architecture (I think).

Samuel Wing has been my pandemic project:  In January 2020 Seth and I gave a talk at Colonial Williamsburg about early 19th century chairmaking, then in December I signed a contract with Lost Art Press to write a book about early 19th century chairmaking. I have spent the last three years learning how to build chairs like Samuel Wing did on Cape Cod in 1802. Now finally, I’m ready to share what I’ve learned:

Immerse yourself in the tools, techniques and mindset of 18th Century chairmakers. Working from period designs (including one by Cape Cod’s Samuel Wing) we’ll build a loop back entirely with handtools. In the process we’ll become immersed in a pre-industrial mindset emphasizing strength and speed over precision.  We’ll use a method of assembling chairs unknown in living memory, a method so shockingly simple that is requires almost no measuring. (Note: if you love building chairs that are measured in thousandths, you may want to look at my modern chairmaking classes where modern precision remains supreme.)

Unlike most of my chairmaking classes, we’ll do some turning: the center stretchers will be split from an oak log and turned it on a foot-powered pole lathe. Bows will be split from a log, profiled with planes and steam bent. Seats will be carved from a single piece of white pine.  Tenons will be turned on the pole lathe and mortises bored with spoon bits (or a bit brace). Due to time and drying limitations, most of the turned parts (legs, side stretchers, spindles) will be provided.

January 22nd to 27th, 2024 – $1800 

Register on my website. 



Make a Wheelbarrow with me and Peter Ross

My wife Morgan and I got back from our honeymoon in Italy a couple weeks ago.  We focused on eating and walking, but I did see a 15th century riven-oak square thing (wardrobe?)  in a museum, so I know they did have respectable trees once upon a time.  Now I’m back into writing my book (it’s coming along great), making a settee and a couple bar stools, and thinking about teaching again.  Stay tuned for a chairmaking class (probably in December), but first, wheelbarrows.

This is a class that I’ve wanted to run for years, mainly because I want to teach with my friend Peter Ross, the blacksmith.  He’s someone you can’t help learning from every time you see him (and I see him a lot) – he has thought more deeply about his craft, and craft as a whole, than anyone I know.  We make a good team and I think this class will be a great leaning experience about far more than simply how to make a wheelbarrow.   Here’s the details:

Learn traditional woodworking and blacksmithing techniques as you build a handsome wheelbarrow. Elia will help you split a log, shave the parts, split tenons with a chisel, then use dry draw-bored pins to lock the green joints together (some dry lumber may also be used).  As time permits, you’ll bandsaw and chisel a wheel from dry oak boards and attach it’s metal rim (alternately, finished wheels will be available for purchase during the class). As you forge brackets and braces for your wheelbarrow, you’ll learn basic blacksmithing techniques from one of the best blacksmiths in the country.

TRADITIONAL WHEELBARROW, October 2nd-7th, 2023
Visit the Wheelbarrow Class page for more info.

About Peter Ross:  Peter is a nationally recognized artisan blacksmith. After 23 years as master of the blacksmith shop at Colonial Williamsburg, he moved to rural North Carolina and now operates his own shop. Peter specializes in museum-quality reproductions of hardware and furnishings for historic houses, working mainly with the hand-tool methods used in pre-industrial England and America.

Chairmaking class info can be found on my teaching page.

We’ll be making a wheel similar to this one.

For Sale: Continuous Arm Settee – Some Assembly Required

I’ve been rooting around in my shop’s attic and I found this partially finished chair, abandoned by a student in one of my classes long ago. I can’t remember what happened – maybe he got sick or something. I’ve been tripping over it long enough, so I’m selling it for the cost of the parts. I don’t know much about the state it’s in, so buyer beware. It lacks stretchers and spindles, but everything else is there. It was built to Curtis Buchanan’s plans.

The seat is perfection as far as I can tell – a beautiful piece of pine.

The bow has a wiggle in it…

…and a thin spot…

…and some worm holes (plus the ubiquitous splinter at the elbow that needs to be shaved off).  The bow should work, though it may never be totally straight.

Apparently there’s something wrong with the reaming job on this leg.

$350 plus shipping (or best offer).

40 Chairs and a Barrel

I have just returned from a road trip to Michigan with my friend Bill Anderson.  The trip had a dual focus: deliver 40 chairs and learn to make a barrel.

This by far the largest chair order I’ve ever gotten. What fun! I’d take another job like this tomorrow – it’s so much easier building forty identical chairs than bouncing from job to job, trying to keep track of styles and finishes.

Forty chairs and a Ford.

We were excited to travel: Bill and I used to teach together at the John C. Campbell Folk School fifteen years ago, but haven’t traveled together since. Bill has a great sense of humor. read more…

Spinning Wheels

One of my readers sent me this video.  It’s from 1964 Sweden, of an old fellow making a spinning wheel.  The film is beautifully shot and silent, so you can can choose your own soundtrack.  There’s a lot of great parts, but my favorite is the boring and reaming jigs. One of Nancy Goyne Evans’s books references 18th Century American Windsor advertisements that mention a machine for letting legs into seats, but I could never picture what that machine might have looked like until I saw this video:

The tenon cutter at the 3:00 minute mark is like nothing I have ever seen.  It’s adjustable, it’s setting held in place with wooden blocks.   I had no idea that a handheld tool could take a shaving that wide.  I’ve started to make one for cutting leg tenons.  I used an old, thick plane iron, but it’s not stiff enough and jerks into the work with a noise fit to raise the dead.   I’ll try again when things slow down. 

The marking stick that follows the tenon cutter uses sharpened nails to mark the work.  Chair turners used sticks like this, which produced the score marks in the vases of baluster turnings. Most modern makers produce these marks with a pencil, followed by the tip of a skew. The old way works just as well and you don’t spend so much time hunting for your pencil (which you probably shoveled out the window after it fell in the shavings). read more…

Samuel Wing Chair Class

Last week I had four friends over for a trial run of a class set in the year 1803, building a copy of Samuel Wing’s loop back chair. It was a great week. We all learned a lot, none more than me. Thanks to Damon O’Gan for the black-and-white photos below:

We split, hewed, shaved stretcher blanks, then turned them on the pole lathe. This was everyone’s favorite part of the class, to everyone’s great surprise. The pole lathe is such a gentle, meditative machine; I think we could happily have spent days on them.

We splitbows from the log and sawed others from a board, then planed them all just like Samuel Wing did. To nobody’s great surprise, the riven bows bent better and the sawn bows pulled splinters just like Samuel Wing’s did.

We sawed the seats with bowsaws and shaved them in the usual fashion (with gouges instead of inshaves for the hollowing cuts).

We reamed with open-faced reamers…

…and bored with spoon bits, all with very little measuring.

Then we glued them up with the usual banging and grimacing, followed by sticky fingers…..

….and smiling faces.

I hope to offer this class at some point, but I still don’t know when that will be – I’m still busy writing this book and building chairs.  What a great life I’ve got.

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