Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

green woodworking

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.

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.

New year, new plans for the shop.

Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment

I have not posted much over the past couple of months because I have been working on re-tooling my shop for more hand-tool-centric work.  From now on I want to do as much of my work as I can, within reason, with hand tools. This has created a need to completely rethink my shop and work practices.  Many power tools have been sent to the storage building. I kept the table saw and bandsaw in the shop and will still use them often.  The hand saw now gets used quite a bit for cross-cutting while the chop saw gathers dust on the shelf. The chop saw may go to storage soon.  The main problem that I am running into is that rather than having a tin shop, blacksmith shop, cooper shop, artists workspace or house fixing shop, I have all the above in a one car garage.  So space is a big issue. I am a big fan of tools on wheels, and stations that can be moved without a hernia. 

The reason I bring all this up is that working with predominately hand tools has many advantages.  First off, noise.  I am so sick of listening to air cleaners, dust collectors and power saws. Also dust.  The very fine dust made my power tools has become a real health issue for me and many other long-term woodworkers.  A day of dusty shop work, even with filtration, often results in massive, brain splitting headaches.  With hand tools the dust is much coarser particles which are easier to deal with. Plus, you work with a lot of shavings that eliminate much of the dust to start with.

In addition to noise and dust, there is the environmental factor. With my hand tools I use a fraction of the electricity used before.  I would guess that I am using power tools maybe 20% of the time now, depending on the project.  Couple the reduced energy with the fact that I try to use as much recycled or discarded material that I can, and I feel better about my energy consumption.  I have struggled with the fact that even though I was making rustic furniture and folk art with basically free and renewable materials, I was using a ton of electricity to do it.

No system is perfect. I will still be burning charcoal in my forge, heating the shop with a gas furnace (wood stove had to go so that I could hook up the forge), and consuming materials. However, I think the shop is headed in a good direction.

The next project that I will be starting is reproducing this shaving horse.

It is an antique that works great for coopering. I want to make a new one for use in the shop so that I can preserve this bench.