Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

Traditional woodworking

Building a new cooper's plane at the Woodwright's School.

Coopering, Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell2 Comments

I have been wanting a good cooper's plane for a long time to use in my shop.  Finding an antique one that is in usable condition has not worked out.  The few that I have seen are completely worn out. My friend Ed S. loaned me one that he had that I thought I would use as a study piece. Here is Ed's plane.  As you can see, it has had better days.Ed's PlaneIt turned out that Roy Underhill's Woodwright School was going to be having a class over Labor Day weekend where I could make a bench jointer plane using all traditional tools and techniques. I approached Roy and the instructor, Bill Anderson about making a 6' long cooper's jointer instead of the 24" bench jointer that the other students would be making in the class.  After several rounds of emails and searching for materials Bill found a massive block of hard maple and an antique 3.5 inch wide Ward single iron. The iron came from Ed Lebetkin's great antique tool shop located above the school. It turned out that the iron had been in Ed's shop for a long time and it was a perfect fit for the plane we wanted to make.

The class was three days over Labor Day weekend.  They were full days and very physical for me, as he wood blank was hard as a rock and about all I could handle to move around.  Bill was a great instructor and very patient with my low skill level when it came to plane making.  I had no idea how much precision layout would be involved, or how many different angles had to be chopped, chiseled, parred, or filed with floats to make everything fit just right.  It was the hardest class I have ever taken, but one of the most rewarding considering how many new things I learned.

Coopering classroom

I did not take very many pictures during the class as I was hanging on for dear life to finish this beast.  Here is one of my new plane next to the antique plane that Roy and Bill found in an antique shop and purchased prior to our class.  We tried to match the antique as close as we could. I drilled the hole in the toe of the plane after getting home.

OLD and new plane

The plane in use...adjustments.

We discussed several options for the stand for my plane while in class. Most period illustrations that I found showed the plane with some sort of two-legged plane that inserted into the hole in the toe of the plane.  The lower end of the plane was usually shown bumped up against a wall, sill or heavy object to keep it in place.  I knocked together a prototype from scrap lumber to try out.

Plane with first standTwo things became apparent quickly with this type of stand. First, the plane was too low to be used comfortably at my height. I am assuming that the planes were kept low so that the cooper could really lean into the hard oak staves for barrels.  I am working with softer woods that are not hard to run down the plane.  Second, the base will not stay in place on the concrete floor, especially when it gets slick with shavings.  So I went with plan B, which is a more vertical support that clamps to the side of the plane.

Plane with new stand 2

This design is a major improvement over the first attempt.  It seems to stay locked in place well.  Drilling the second hole in the plane was traumatic, but had to be done.  I made it a few inches taller that the first setup and may shorten in later if needed.

The other adjustment that had to be made was to regrind the plane iron to fit the plane body.  The cutting edge was slightly skewed from the sole of the plane.  Once I reground and sharpened the iron all was well.

I am very happy with this plane. Thanks to Bill and the Woodwright's School I have a very nice cooper's jointer plane that should serve several generations of coopers.

A massive lathe in England.

Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell2 Comments

On a recent trip to Scotland and England we had dinner with friends at The Walnut Tree, in Chichester England.  The inn was ancient and filled with great antiques and oddities.  Right beside the bar was this massive, very low lathe. Pub lathe 1I was not able to find out anything about the lathe. The centers are about a foot lower than what we normally see. Also, the poppets are about 8-10 inches square. The centers are made from about 1" square bar stock.  Since there is no drive evident I am assuming that this was a spring pole lathe of some sort.  Whoever built it definitely did not want it to vibrate.

Here are a couple more pictures of the lathe.  Does anyone have any ideas about why this lathe is so low and massive?

pub lathe 2pub lathe 3

An article on music and craft by Robin Wood.

Traditional woodworking, UncategorizedRob GorrellComment

"Robin Wood is an internationally respected wood worker specialising in use of local timbers and traditional techniques, but with a distinctive modern twist."  If this is the first you have heard of Robin Wood then you need to take some time and read his blog and website. Today I read his post about his teaching method for spoons and the pitfalls of just going off free-form from the start, without studying some good references or taking some good classes to get started.  I realize that in a lot of our cases these classes are not readily available and we do the best we can with books and videos.  Anyway, I don't have anything profound to add, just wanted to pass on this great article.


An update to my pole lathe.

Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment

Poler lathe issues  

Using a pole lathe, or more accurately a bungie lathe in my case, is a lot of fun.  It is quiet, safe and creates less dust than a power lathe.  Now I don't think I would want to work at one all day for production, but it is a great addition to my human powered tool workshop.

I first built this pole lathe a year or so ago. It was about the third lathe I had built and the first that actually worked.  However, I built it similar to a modern style lathe. The lathe sat in the corner for a long time waiting to be used.  I spend some time on a great website for those wanting to turn green wood with human-powered lathe and other green woodworking techniques, the Bodger's Ask and Answer.   It turns out that I needed to make some changes. For one, the bed of my lathe was too low. If your pole lathe is low like mine was, then you work all hunkered over and out of kilter, leading to a sore back.  According to the regulars on the Bodger's forum the lathe centers needed to be "a little below nipple height".  I found that adding risers to the lathe so that the centers were indeed nipple height made the lathe much more comfortable to use.

Another issue that came up was that as the lathe sat in the corner waiting it also dried out and shrunk more than expected. Rob Gorrell pole lathe 2

This shrinking allowed the wedges for the poppets to go in too far. It also made the tool rest out of alignment with the centers as can be seen in the two pics so far. I had been making do with some temporary shims but decided to add a thin layer to the bottom of the poppets and tool rest. I also shortened the tool rest base so that the cord would no longer rub against the rest, creating friction.  When you are the power source friction is a bad thing. It saps energy away from the tool, and you.Blog-pole-lathe-2

Blog-pole-lathe-3Now that I have made these improvements the lathe is working much better.  Now I need to learn how to turn.Blog-pole-lathe-1

The next improvement to the lathe will be a better foot pedal and a proper tailstock feed handle. More on those later.

I bought a new old saw! Woohoo.

Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment



Over the weekend I ran into an old treadle jigsaw the likes of which I have not seen before.  It is wobbly, damaged, lopsided and perfect.  I have never seen quite like this.  Part of it looks like maybe it was factory made. But then other parts are totally make do fixes.  Maybe it was a kit from an old catalog?


I am thinking I would like to fix this saw up and use it in my shop.  Everything moves freely and the only thing that seems to be missing is the top blade mount.  However, There are no real bearings and I think the friction losses on this baby will be severe.  I will probably make some changes in the way some of the moving parts connect.

Speaking of moving parts, check out the great castings on the drive train:


I think this is probably from the late 1800's, maybe 1880's?  I want to find out more about it before I start making changes.  If anyone has information about this model I would be very glad to hear it.

Here are a couple more photos. I cannot find any identification or markings anywhere on the saw.