Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

hand made

Starting on a new Tramp Art Sewing Box.

Rob GorrellComment

I have been wanting to make a new sewing box for a little while now and have finally started working up the design.  The last sewing box I made was this one.

This time I decided to do a box with a simple geometric design of triangles, then a lid similar to the green box.  To get started I drew a simple pattern for the box sides.  After numbering the parts I realized that I only needed two of the pieces, duh.

From here I cut out all the parts for the first layer. To make the pattern for the next layer up I drew lines about 1/4" in on the pattern and cut it down to the lines. Generally the top layer is made the same amount smaller along each edge as the thickness of the layer below.  Here are some more of the parts cut out.

One thing for sure. I need to get different lighting in the shop for photography.

The top is all cut out, notched and ready to paint. Each layer will be painted and finished before being applied to the lid.

Next I will finish notching the triangles for the sides and start painting pieces.  Hopefully I can post some progress in a few days.

 

Monkeys on a Weathervane? I call it "King of the Hill".

Folk Art, Painted Folk Art, Tramp Art, WhittlingRob GorrellComment

For some reason the other day I got to thinking about the old "Barrel full of Monkeys" that we played with as kids. Did you have a set? It was a pretty simple toy, but fun.  At the same time I was thinking about the series of folk art weather vanes that I am working on in the shop. So here is how my mind tends to work sometimes. I am thinking of a new weather vane design and about monkeys, so the obvious conclusion is that I need to make a weather vane full of monkeys. Right? So I did.

Cutting out some of the planning steps, I ended up with a pile of monkey shaped blanks of basswood. I was going to hand-carve each of the monkeys, but decided to save time and effort and power carve them into vague, monkey-influenced shapes.

It was at about this point that I started thinking about how the monkeys would be climbing over each other to get to the top of the weather vane. Would the top monkeys be pulling the others up, or kicking them off the heap? Were the monkeys working cooperatively to achieve the summit, or were they trying to jerk the top monkey off of the peak? I did not know yet.

After loosely carving the monkeys I set them aside and worked on the copper weather vane parts. For the arrow and tail I used some salvaged copper sheet that I had in the shop.  Once the copper was shaped and soldered into shape I worked on the layout of the monkeys. Thank goodness for zip ties and wires. Getting wooden monkeys to fit neatly on a weather vane turned out to be quite a challenge.

Skipping forward again, I finished carving and painting the monkeys and fastened them together using a variety of techniques to get them under control.  For the base I used part of a salvaged pine beam, an old spool of some sort and a few chip carved pieces of a shipping crate.  A few layers of paint, some antiquing of the copper and I called it done.

King of the hill weather vane

In the end I decided the monkey on top was a mean looking dude and is trying to dominate the other monkeys. Maybe I'm just in a mood, but that is the way I see it. What do you think? [polldaddy poll=6717789]

I have listed this creation in my Etsy Store if you are interested in purchasing King of the Hill for your collection.

Variations on a Parisian street sign.

Folk Art, Painted Folk Art, Traditional woodworking, WhittlingRob GorrellComment

The Carnavalet Museum in Paris has a fantastic exhibit of trade signs made up of original metal signs saved as many sites in Paris were being torn down to make way for new streets and buildings.  One of my favorite signs was this all metal sign of  a trumpeting angel.  I have no information about the actual original use for the sign. To me she is a kick-ass messenger trumpeting some important message to passers-by.  I feel like the branches she carries might be some sort of olive branch, symbolizing the possibility of peace and joy.   I thought about this sign many times after we got home and eventually decided I wanted to make a folk art carved sign inspired by this street sign.  I wanted to combine some different materials such as copper, steel and wood to create my own version of this great antique sign.

I started out with a basswood blank and cut out the blanks for the wings and body of the angel.  I'm not much of a carver, so the carving is pretty basic. I was going for some sort of loose quilted look.  You can see where I planned to attach the wings and cape later on.

After I carved and sanded the wood parts, and put the parts together, it was time to base coat the angel.  I started with a sort of light mustardy color.  I did not want this piece to end up all dark right off the bat, so I did not antique the paint layers very much. This photo was taken early on in the painting process. And yes, I know the head looks a little Cro-Magnon at this point. Shelley helped me get it looking a bit more human before the sign was finished.

And yes, that is an awesome post vise.

I created a sort of flowing cape from some salvaged copper next and fastened it to the body behind the wings. The original sign had another apron of sorts in the front but I decided that I did not like the way it looked. So I left if off. 

It was at this point that I ran into a problem, the hair. In my mind I wanted to sign to have hair inspired by the way some girls wear their hair in big loose style like this (as a guy I guess I really don't know what the style is called, but this model is very pretty).

  My technique was to curl sections of wire and glue a number of them into the head of the angel.  Well........it did not exactly come out as I imagined. It looked more like a victim of a bizarre accident with an extension cord.  We worked on it later on in the project and got the "hair" under control. It isn't what I envisioned, but at least it is not demonic anymore. The foliage on the original sign was flat and cut out of the metal sheet with the rest of the sign. I wanted to give the sign work shape and movement with a copper garland.  It took a while to cut out all of the leaves, shape them on the mandrel and solder them to the twisted copper wire stems. I am happy with the way it came out in the end.  In fact, after seeing how the foliage came out I decided that I wanted to leave out the hanging sign that the angel was holding in the antique sign.  The trumpet is also copper as was pretty simple to work out.

The remainder of the project involved the wavy metal banner that supports the angel.  Rather than try to figure out some way to hide the bars that attach the angel to the banner, I decided to make them a prominent part of the design. Since it was a nice day when I was working on this part I used my smaller outdoor forge.  This required some creative fire management to get the large banner supported during the several heats needed to work up the banner and straps.  The hanging bars are attached to the banner with hand hammered copper rivets.

So at the end of it all we ended with the angel sign shown below.  I think it still needs a little work here and there to really finish off the project. The next project in this grain will be a scrolled metal wall bracket to support the sign outward from a wall.

Making a small keg.

Coopering, Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment

One weekend a while back I got the idea to try to make a small keg for drinks or other liquid storage.  This would be a straight sided, "white cooper" container. I am learning white coopering which covers many straight sided containers such as buckets, piggens, tubs, churns, etc.  Making the curved staved barrels is a whole different skill set, which I do not have.

Making something with two ends in it turned out to be trickier than I thought.  To fit the end into a bucket you leave the top band in place and loosen or remove the bottom band. This loosens the staves so that the bottom will slip into the crozed groove near the bottom. Doing this from above allows the bottom disc to spread the staves enough to snap into the groove (hopefully).  Once the bottom is in place and fits correctly, the bottom band is replaced. But with a vessel with two bottoms I had to insert the second end from the outside, which was as simple, but I finally got it in place.

For the handle I fired up my forge and made a simple iron handle held in place with eye screws.  The whole thing was then painted with red milk paint. 

After taking this photo I added a small wooden tap in one end.

 

 

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.