Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

Rustic Furniture

History of the Big A$$ Beer Drinking Chair.

Painted Folk Art, Rustic FurnitureRob GorrellComment

One of the first questions  people used to ask me at crafts show was "Can I put this outside?"  My answer was always yes. Because, you can put your dining room table outside if you want to after all. The next questions were usually will it rot and will it get bugs. Again the answers were yes. This may have killed some sales, but was true. Then I would tell them that their dining room table would rot and get bugs outside also. In my experience the maple  and willow furniture that I made would get a little wobbly after two or three years in direct weather and would be in bad shape by five. However, under roof the furniture would last a long time. Just how long became apparent the other day when my wife and I tried to figure out how old the "Big Ass Beer Drinking Chair" that sits on the front porch was.  I got to digging in the files and found that it was made in 1997 or 1998. Here is a pre-digital scan of the chair in 1998. Man did I need to get a better camera and learn how to use it.We used the chair around the yard and on the porch for several years.  By 2005 it was showing some wear. We had been soaking it once or twice a year with a water sealer to preserve the chair. Here is the chair on the porch in 2005.

Well, by this time even water sealer was losing out to bugs and nature. The bark had held on longer than I thought it would, but was coming loose. We stuck the chair out in the yard on the bricks to let nature take her course with the chair. At some point we dry brushed some white paint on the chair, because as the glorious Dolly Parton says, "a good coat of paint makes any old barn look good".

At some point we just painted the whole thing white and put it on the porch. I don't know when that was, but there have been several coats of white.  One leg is a little short now and I need to replace a piece in the back, but the chair is still functional and will hold you up while drinking a beer or whatever.


Why did I write this rather pointless post? Not sure. I guess I was just surprised that the chair has lasted this long.

Building a new shaving horse.

Coopering, Rustic Furniture, Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell2 Comments

I have been wanting to build a new version of the antique shaving horse that I have for a long time.  I acquired this bench about 10 years ago along with several other barrel making tools.  We think the set came from a cooper's shop in WV from the early days of the oil industry. This shaving horse is long, nearly 6 ft, and oak, so it is heavy. It has seen a lot of use and is still completely functional. I have been using if off and on, but have always felt that I should make a replacement for use in my shop. It seems a shame to put more wear and tear on such an unusual bench.

 There are a few features that I would like to point out that make this bench nice to use.  The dumbhead, which is the block at the top of the moving arm, has two different sized notches. On the right is a higher notch that is nice for working wide staves on edge. On the left is a lower notch that is the right width for finishing up staves. The flat area in the center is like that standard dumbhead and is good for working the front and backs of staves and for shaping heads and bottoms.

The long shelf in front of the dumbhead seems to be an idea that did not stick around.  I have not seen a shelf this long on other benches. I assume that since this one is from a barrel shop that the long shelf made it easier to support long staves and I can tell you from experience that being able to support bucket staves for the full length is a nice feature.  The three holes in the end of the shelf are still a mystery.

Another good use for the shelf is for holding buckets in place while you shape the outsides with a spoke shave. I have found that if I put a bucket over the shelf and push up under it with my knees that the bucket stays nice and secure, leaving your hands free to manage the tool.

If you look at the bottom of the arm you can see the block of wood on the far end of the pedal. It has enough weight to release the dumbhead from the work when your foot is removed. I have not put this on my new version yet and the difference is remarkable.

The indentations on either side of the bench allow plenty of room to get your legs in close, which makes the shaving horse much more comfortable to work with that full width benches.

So after much procrastination I finally built a new bench based on the antique. For the most part I stuck to the original dimensions with the exception of the height. My bench is a couple of inches higher off the ground to make in more comfortable for me.  Yellow pine 2x12s were used for most parts, with some scrap poplar and pine filling out the rest.  Overall it came out pretty good. The exception being the mortices for the legs. I botched them up pretty good. Sometime I am going to have to rework the business end legs.

One other change I made was to put a leather pad on the center part of the dumbhead. The cedar that I am currently using to make buckets is very soft, and the dumbhead edge was making pretty big dings in the staves. Now with the pad I get a good grip without crushing the wood.

Initially I was going to make the entire bench with hand tools. There was a discussion a while back on the Bodger's site about the need to use hand tools more. The point being made was why use power tools to make something so you can make things by hand. This person (I can't remember the name right off), said we should do it all by hand for the experience.  Anyway, having bought into this theory I started making the main bench by hand and did OK for a while. However, when it came time to rip both sides of the three-foot long shelf with my Diston rip saw, the spirit left me.  This and the real desire to get the damn thing done so I could get back to making a bucket really sapped my dedication to the theory. Out came the band saw.  I'll try harder next time.

This was a good project. It took the best part of a weekend for me to get it all together and used up the best part of a couple of 8 ft 2x12 yellow pine boards.  If you want to build one I would be glad to send you some dimensions and detail photos.

Building a tramp art cupboard.

Painted Folk Art, Rustic Furniture, Tramp ArtRob GorrellComment

Tramp art hidden drawer cupboard. I made this painted tramp art cupboard a while back but have been wanting to show the process of how it was made.  Like many things I make, this one changed several times before I came up with something that I was really happy with.

This whole thing started when I bought about 1000 reject drawers for router cabinets from my local Woodcraft store. I figured they would be a good starting point for lots of different projects that required small drawers. One idea was to make a small cupboard that would hold several small drawers. I wanted this cupboard to be plain on the outside, and a bold surprise on the inside. Dan Mack once said that you should not explain your piece to the viewer, but instead, let the piece open up and allow the viewer to discover the story for themselves. I wanted the story to be inside of this cupboard, waiting to be discovered.

My brother was remodeling and old country post office building that needed a new roof. The old roof had really cool pressed tin panels that were rusted nearly to the point of falling apart. I also had a stash of reject walnut lumber to use for the case.

Tramp art cupboard roughed in.

Here you can see the cupboard being roughed in. I decided to use some birch plywood for the doors to keep them from warping. You can see that I am going to have to piece together the tin panels to cover the doors completely. Getting the old rusty tin to form neatly around the door panels was a bit challenging. The old paint kept flaking off where I did not want it to.

I added chip carved fronts to the drawers and matching chip carved panels on the insides of the drawers. I added only simple edge-carved side panels on the outside.

Here is what the primitive cupboard looked like with the doors attached and the tramp art carving completed.

Tramp art cupboard ready to paint.
Tramp art cupboard ready to paint.

Ok, here is where I ran into trouble.  My plan was to have the inside be very bright and decided to go with an americana set of colors. I should add that I usually need to consult Shelley about colors to get something that looks good. I did not do this.... So here is where the paint job ended up for a while.

Red white and blue tramp art cupboard.

Now this is with my old camera, and the red did not look quite this bad, but it was close.  It did not take long to realize that this cupboard was not finished. I let it stew for a few weeks to see what would happen.

This was about the point where I started adding metalworking tools to my little shop. I also found some patina solution in our supplies that put a copper patina over a base metal, in this case, tin.  So I fiddled around with crinkled tin panels that followed the lines in the tin on the doors, and added the patina in several layers.

For the inside I went with a sort of new age-y green with metallic blue, gold and green speckles.  It sort of ended up with a green night sky sort of feel that I was very happy with.  By adding the door panels and repainting the inside I came up with a neat little cupboard that I am pretty happy with...for now. Here is the finished cupboard. It is about 14 inches tall and about 5" deep.

Hidden drawer tramp art cupboard

Hidden drawer tramp art cupboard, open


In retrospect, 1000 drawers was about 950 more than I really needed. I ended up giving them away by the case. The last 450 or so went to the local school art department.  At least they did not end up in the landfill.

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>Starting a new twig chair.

Rustic FurnitureRob Gorrell2 Comments

>I have been wanting to build a new rustic chair for a while now and have finally moved some wood into the shop to begin the project. This pine was gathered along the interstate where a hillside had been cleared and a lot of wood was left to rot. Since this wood has been down a while I will have to treat it for critters at some point. More on that later.The new chair will be in the same theme as the one above that I made a couple years ago. I have a few oars, but the back will be something other than a snowshoe. I'm not exactly sure what yet. The first step was to get the wood into the shop.

In the past I would throw the pile on the floor and trip over it for a while until I got around to making something. In a fit of organization I decided to trim all the bad spots out and organize the pile for a change. So now I am here:

My next step will be to start fiddling around with the different twigs to get an idea of how the chair might look in different arrangements.

With spring coming on and all the yard work to be done, this chair may take a while to complete. I hope to give regular updates.

Coming up: Bungee cord joinery.If you are interested in making your own chairs I highly recommend that you read Dan Mack's books on rustic furniture. 

>New White Willow Loveseat for the porch.

Rustic FurnitureRob GorrellComment


I finally got around to building the new love seat for our porch that Shelley has been after me to build. The old one was did not really go with the other chairs I made a few years ago. You can see the chairs on the near side of this picture.

I cut the willow a couple of months ago along the Ohio River and peeled the bark while it was fresh. If you wait too long the bark is difficult to remove. I let the willow to dry a few weeks to make it easier to paint.

The design for this love seat is sort of like an adirondack chair. I use the willow for the frame and pine boards for the seat, arms and back. This makes for a very comfortable love seat or chair that mixes the adirondack chair and twig chair themes.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the completed frame to show how the slats were made and put on the frame. So here is the completed twig love seat on the porch.