A New Wheelbarrow Class

Peter and I are at it again. Last year’s wheelbarrow class was so much fun we’ve decided to do it again. A local sawmill is at work sawing one of the last green ash logs in the Piedmont for barrow frames (no thanks to you Mr. Emerald Ash Borer) and we’ve got Roy Underhill’s foot-powered mortiser in the wings ready for mortising emergencies. Should be a grand time. Here’s the details:

Learn to make a traditional wheelbarrow! First, Elia will help you mortise the wheel’s hub, shave its spokes and fit its fellies. With the wheel under way, you’ll begin learning basic blacksmithing techniques as Peter helps you forge the brackets and braces for your wheelbarrow. Peter will make the tires for the wheels, then we’ll heat them in a fire, tap them onto the wheels, then dunk the wheels in a vat of water to shrink the tire and lock the wheel in its iron grip.  Once the wheels are done, we’ll begin mortise-and-tenoning the barrow’s wooden frame. Students will go home with a finished wheel and a partially-completed barrow, plus all the parts and knowledge needed to finish it.

 September 9th-14th, 2024 

Visit the Traditional Wheelbarrow page for more info and to register read more…

Seat Blanks for Sale

I’ve been doing some spring cleaning. Yesterday and today I’ve been hauling pine seat blanks into the attic from where they’ve been air-drying outside. Before that, I was going through more seats upstairs, making room. The upshot is that I have found some surplus seats. They are surplus for various reasons. The white pine is either surplus because it has cracks (I’m selling it cheap for glue-ups) or because I found a pile of nice seats that I sent with Seth to the Handworks show in Iowa. Some of these seats came back, so I figure I might as well throw them in here. The rest of the seats are surplus because they are of a species that I am no longer interested in making seats out of. I’ve gotten lazy in my old age and don’t want to mess with anything but white pine and butternut. So I’m posting them here.  (Some of it is long enough to make table tops if you’re so inclined.)

Please Note: I really don’t want to ship these seats. This is for a couple reasons. I don’t know how to grade these things. Plus I live in humid NC and, while the seats have all been air-dried for several years, they are still somewhere between 10 and 20% EMC. I don’t know what they’ll do if I ship them to the desert. All told, there’s too much room for disappointment. But if I can’t sell them otherwise, I might be willing to ship some of them without a warranty. It makes my nervous, but I need them out of here and they’re too good to burn.

With that in mind, here they are:

Buckeye: These are the widest seats I’ve ever had. The one in the photo is 27 to 29″ wide and well over 2″ thick. It may be close to 2.5″ The ones that I have carved had some curl – pretty, but tough. They also grew with a twist, which means they are more likely to twist. These broads are six or eight years old and still pretty flat, but that can still change. I have three boards, 5-6′ long. $4/bf

A stack of nice white pine seats. Came from Michigan. $70/seat (I definitely will not ship these, but these folks do)

White pine for two-piece seats: I have enough of this for maybe 10 or 15 seats. $3/bf

Elm: This stuff is very hard. It’s also rather pretty, in a greenish sort of way. Like all elm, it has interlocking grain, which makes it impossible to split (a benefit for seats), very hard to carve, and very likely to twist. Most English Windsor chair seats were made out of this stuff. I have a half dozen boards of varying widths up to 22″ or so. They’re maybe 6′ long. $5/bf

Walnut: This is mostly some stuff that I had sawn eight or ten years ago. It’s really nice walnut, air-dried with lots of color. Most of it is pretty clear. Some of it is 8′ long or so. $120/seat (this one has a couple cracks, so it’s $80)

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…

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