Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

hand tools

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.

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.

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.

Taking the plunge to dump the power tools.

Folk ArtRob Gorrell2 Comments

Hi gang. I have been considering switching to primarily hand tools for a long, long time now. Over the years I have developed some sort of allergy, or maybe just a psychological aversion, to the fine sawdust of power tools. Even with noisy dust collection systems and masks I would still end up flat-out in a migrainal haze after a full Saturday in the shop. Also, I really, really hate flat wood.After years of building average stuff with average, at best, power tools, I am taking the plunge and have been slowly ridding my shop of power tools for my fun projects. I am keeping the corded stuff in storage for when I need to do house repairs though. I have been taking classes in coopering, tinsmithing and very beginning blacksmithing and am retooling the shop for these activities. It is amazing how much easier it is to keep the shop clean when I don't go blasting sub-micron sized dust all over the place. And the quiet! My God I can hear the music on the cd player!!

But.......I am having much distress over hauling the table saw to storage. What I want to do is store the table saw and just keep the 14" band saw for hogging wood into general shape. I use the bandsaw probably 10 to 1 over the table saw. If I ban the table saw, then the last of the large dust collection system goes with it which will open up a great chunk of floor space for my pole lathe, which is crammed against the wall right now. However, abandoning the table saw is like giving up peanut butter.

I need a support group. I need to rip off the band aid (plaster to you fellows I think) and just do it.  I was discussing this on the Bodger's Ask and Answer forum recently and a fellow named Gavin, owner of Shed Therapy coined the phrase "Power Tool separation Anxiety (PTSA)".  Not trying to make fun of any of the real conditions out there, but this seemed like a pretty good description. I don't like the power tools, I want rid of them, but I can't seem to take them out altogether.

But to my original point. I can attribute the final decision to a few things. This website, Roy Underhill in all his goofy sageness, and Christopher Swartz's book, The Anarchist's Tool Chest. Even if you never plan to build any square and flat in your life you should read  this book.

So, should I toss the table saw?