Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

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cedar bucket

Making a large wood tankard.

UncategorizedRob Gorrell5 Comments

Each time I make something in my shop I try to improve on a technique that I am learning, and often try to add a new skill along the way. This time I decided to try my hand at making a wooden tankard.  The tankard I made was based on an 1808 example that was found in Denmark.

Right off the bat I could see that adding the handle was going to be a challenge. In most examples I have seen the handle is an integral part of the body, with a stave and handle being made in one piece.  If you are planning on using metal bands this creates a problem as there is not simple way to get the band installed because of the closed loop of the handle.  In this image of the original tankard you can see that the handle is made in two sections which would make the banding much easier.I tried to get in touch with the person who originally posted this image but have not heard back yet.  It would be great to find out more about the original. You can also see that the maker opted for wood banding. But I have not tackled that challenge yet.

I am skipping past splitting and roughing in the staves to show what happens if you read your angle gauge wrong.  When I use this gauge I have to remember that the 10 reading equates to a 10" radius, not a 10" diameter, which is what I wanted. I think I will make a new gauge that is layout in diameter numbering so that I don't make this mistake as often.

After re-jointing all of my staves to the proper angle I was ready to raised the vessel. After raising the sides and making some fine adjustments to the angles I made it to this point. You might notice the adjustable pipe clamps. I end up using these when I don't yet have a proper band the right size handy.  Not something you would do a living history event, but works well when no one is looking. Once all the joints looked good it was time to trim the top and bottoms to get the body of the tankard ready to croze.There was a good bit of scorp and spokeshave work to be done to get the body nice and round and ready for the croze and bottom.  A good cooper would be much closer to a finished shape at this point, but once again it is apparent that I am not a good cooper yet.  It is important that the inside of the bottom be very close to round or the bottom will not fit correctly.

The next photo is of my crozing tool that I made at Tiller's International, and the croze (bottom groove) that was made with the tool.

Up to this point this project moved along reasonably well. Making the handle and lid was, well, interesting.  Maybe in a later post I will do another and show more details.  The high point was that I got to use my newly acquired Stanley 45 to make the groove for the locking mechanism to ride in. The 45 takes some tinkering to get set up and ready, but it sure is fun to use.

From here there was much filing and sanding to get the lid and handle finished.  Numerous "opportunities for future improvements" were found during this project. I ended up with a functional lid, but is not graceful by any means.

But in the end I ended up with a tankard that is fully functional and will be useful at our living history events this fall.  There will definitely be a Tankard 2.0 to build on the  results of this project.  But, as Jethro Bodine is famous for saying, "All great artists must suffer". Except for him that meant skipping breakfast.

The finished tankard.

Coopering Tools class at Tillers International.

Coopering, Folk Art, Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment

Last weekend I attended the Coopering Tools class at Tillers International in Scotts Michigan. It was my second class at Tillers and was a very good experience. The goal of the class is to make a croze, inshave, curved draw knife, a set of bands and some gauges. It was a large order for a two-day class. Coopering tools made at Tillers International

This class covered a lot of ground in a hurry.  The purpose of the class was not to make us expert tool makers. The goal was to have tools to make buckets. Most of the class would be staying two more days after this class to make a piggen using their new tools. I had taken the piggen class before and would not be staying.

The class was taught by Chuck Andrews and Peter Cooper (yep, that's really his last name), assisted by the staff and volunteers at Tillers. Chuck and Peter also teach buckets, butter churns and barrel making at Tillers.

The first morning we started out with an informal meet and greet information session at the guest house. The house has been undergoing a spruce up and is really looking good. Generally, day one was woodworking and day two was metal working.  The class started out making the croze. The croze is used to cut the groove in the bottom of the staves to hold the bottom. It is a critical tool to good coopering and it hard to find a good usable antique version. Chuck brought some nice cherry to work with, along with tool steel blanks for the cutters.  The woodworking part of the croze was pretty straight forward. Making the saw tooth cutter was another matter. I really struggled with getting the angled teeth filed correctly with hand files.  I came home with an extra blank in case the one from class will not cut.  I think most everyone else in the class ended up with good cutters. Along with the croze we cut out some gauges that are used to check the angles and curve of different sized staves.  Some students also worked on making a set of dividers that are also used for checking the stave angles. I had already made these items at home and skipped over this section.

Late in the day we moved over to the blacksmith shop to get a jump on the metalworking.  We were provided with annealed tool steel blanks that were already cut out in the rough shape of the inshave and the hollowing knife (curved drawknife), but were still flat. We used a variety of bench grinders and sanders to get the cutting edge roughed into shape, along with cleaning up the other rough edges.  A few of us stayed late to get this step done before morning.

The next morning we jumped back into grinding the edges and getting ready to start forging.  This is where it started getting intense.  There were 10 of us, 20 tools to make and one gas forge.  Once things got really going there were several in-progress tools in the forge at once and two jigs in constant use.  People teamed up to get the red-hot metal into the jigs and hammered into shape.  It was amazing how quick you had to get the blank into the form, clamps in place and the next bend made before it was too cold and had to be put back into the forge.  At this point in the class sweat was flying, stress levels went up and some moderate swearing was heard. But there was also a lot of laughing, so all was well.

Fortunately there were some people in the class with blacksmithing experience. They were able to help Chuck and Peter keep things moving along at a good clip.

After forging the blanks into shape for the inshave and hollowing knife we had a crash course in normalizing, hardening, oil quenching and tempering the cutting edge. As Chuck told us, each of these steps can be studied for years, but he was great at giving us the bare essentials to get the projects finished and I think with a lot of help and encouragement we all came out with decent results.  Wooden handles were drilled and fitted to the two tools and expoxied in place.  Unfortunately one student's hollowing knife cracked and broke in the final stages of the class. It was a terrible moment. I think the Tillers folks were working something out to make sure she had a tool to take home anyway.

By this time I needed to get on the road back to old West Virginia, so I held off on any of the final grinding and polishing until I got home.  The other students were still banging and grinding away as I left.

Tillers is a great organization with an important mission. By taking classes at Tillers one both learns a useful traditional skill, and helps finance the work going on through Tillers International.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the two classes that I have attended and hope to take several more in the future.  I really encourage anyone who wants to learn about traditional coopering with hand tools to take classes at coopers. They are working very hard to learn, teach and spread the use of these and several other techniques and trades.

Makeing a quench tub for my forge.

Coopering, Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment

My most recent coopering project was a quench tub for my forge.  Like the other coopering projects I have posted before, this tub is made from western red cedar with a pine bottom.  The process for cutting the staves is the same as for a smaller bucket, there are just a lot more of them to keep track of. And when the bands fall off during raising, the pile of staves on the floor is larger.  I split out the staves for the  tub and after some fitting  and adjusting had the basic shape raised with temporary bands. It is important at this stage to write numbers on the ends of the staves. That way you know what order to put them back in if you have to take a stave out for trimming, or if the whole thing falls apart into a pile on the bench again.  This situation looks like this:

I did not get any photos of cutting the croze or fitting the bottom this time.  This next photo shows the tub during the final shaping of the outsides of the staves and fitting the final bands to the tub and trimming the rim.

I am still learning to get all of the joints tight and there are a few in this tub that are a little wonky.  I am going to a class at Tillers International soon to make some coooper's tools that I hope will help me make better looking projects in the future.  When the tub was finished and tested, it held water pretty good, only minor seepage.  The tub found a home in my shop as a quench tub for my forge.

I tried to make another Piggen.

CooperingRob GorrellComment
piggen-slideshow-image.jpg

Now that I have finished up the washtub and a couple buckets, I wanted to see what else I could make from the pile of odds and ends in the cedar pile.  What is left is pretty scrappy and I ended up throwing about half of it in the woodpile for firewood.  The rest made the piggen described here and will hopefully be enough for a small straight sided cask and a small tub.  The piggen I ended up with is about 8" in diameter and 6 1/2" tall without the handle. The sides raised up pretty good this time. But I ran into problems with the crozing. I think I am cutting the groove too wide. Most of the bottoms I have made so far seem to be a little loose in the groove. You can see it in this image:

Before I start the next project I will change the design of my croze to cut a narrower groove and also try not to get the edges of the bottom tapered to thin.  This piggen looks ok from the outside but is definitely only a dry measure. It might hold syrup on a really cold day.

I also ran into a problem cutting the tops of the staves flat so the top is a bit wonky.  This project was a struggle. The thing fought me all the way and the end result shows the conflict I think.  But I'm still a beginner so I look at it as progress. After we take this piggen to a few events and it gets broken in maybe it will not look so forlorn.  Good thing I am not trying to sell this one.

I am looking forward to spring when I can start using cattail flagging to better seal the bottoms of my coopered buckets, piggens and tubs. 

Also, I just received permission from the publisher to start using a few images from Kenneth Kilby's book The Cooper and His Trade. I am excited to be able to add information and images from this great source to my blog. More about that soon.

My attempts at coopering a bucket.

Coopering, Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment
naval-bucket-on-horse-web2.jpg

After attending the coopering class at Tillers International I became even more interested in learning to make useful coopered containers, such as buckets, tankards, piggens, wash tubs, etc.  There are several types of coopering, but I am concentrating on White Coopering, which is the process of making straight sided water-tight containers. I am having enough trouble with straight sides and have no immediate plans for barrels with curved sides. That is a whole other set of skills. I am working with western red cedar split rail fencing from the local construction supply store (i.e. Carter Lumber). It is a very nice wood to work with for these buckets. It is mostly straight-grained, soft and splits easier than TV wood (you know, that kind wood they always split on the TV frontier shows, no knots, nearly falls apart on its own..).  The only drawback is that it is very soft and dings up really easy.

Working from the notes and experiences from class I split out the staves and tried to keep them near the right size. It is tough for a beginner because each stave has tapered compound angles on each side, that are shaped on a wooden jointer plane by eye and simple gauge. Here are the staves part way prepared.

I thought I had them reasonably close to the right size for a small naval bucket. Historically this bucket was 12" in diameter at the top and 10" in diameter at the bottom. But when I raised the sides of the bucket I had some pretty wicked gaps between staves and the diameter was too small.  It seemed that I had made several of the staves too narrow.  So I made more.

This picture is a good example of what you do not want to see when you look in you bucket after raising. This thing will never hold water this way.

So after a number of redos and adjustments I finally got the staves to line up pretty good and raised it again with the temporary bands so that I could croze the groove in the bottom to hold the bottom in place.

From here it was a good bit of work the get the inside rounded and the  bottom crozed, make the bottom and shave the edges to fit the groove and insert the bottom. I didn't get any picture of this part.  Once all that was done I could work on rounding the outside with a spokeshave on my shaving horse.  At the end of the weekend I had made it this far with the bucket.  It is far from perfect. But I am hopeful that Chuck was about right when he said after about ten buckets I would be able to make one that did not leak.  So in about 6 more buckets I hope to have a tight bucket.  We will see.