Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

shaving horse

Let's make a coopered washtub.

Coopering, Folk Art, Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell2 Comments

The other day I finished up the cedar coopered buckets that I had been working on. They actually hold water after a short soak in the sink.  I have read that using dried cattail pith is the preferred leak sealer for coopers. But finding good cattail to use is a bit difficult around here at the end of January.  I will need to gather a crop of it in the spring to store away for future coopering.  It seems that the cattail pith will absorb water and swell in the gap until the wood staves have time to swell and seal tight.  So anyway. We have been talking about needing a new washtub to use in our colonial camp setup this year.  I decided to try to make a wooden tub similar in size to the navy tubs mentioned in Kenneth Kilby's book "The Cooper and His Trade."  My goal was to hit something near 20" in diameter at the top and 19" in diameter at the bottom, with a height of 8".  The book lists the bottom at 18", but it turns out that a taper of much more than an inch or so is difficult for a beginner to achieve. I found this out in the process of making two buckets with a 2" difference in top and bottom diameters.

The biggest difference I noticed between making this larger container and a 12" bucket was that the temporary bands did not hold the staves in a perfectly rigid fashion. The staves were pulled into a slightly oval-shaped when raised up and tightened with the hoops.  This led to a bit of a problem with the bottom.  I ended up putting a thin layer of colored caulking in the croze to help seal up the bottom since it did not fit the slightly out of round slot just right. This is where the cattails will come in handy in the future.

Here are a couple of shots of the staves being fitted to the temporary bands.

wooden coopered wash tub staves


hand made coopered tub staves

After a lot of fitting and shaving staves I ended up with a tub that will hold water without soaking.  Granted, that would not be true if I had not cheated a little on the bottom.  But it is a definite improvement over my previous stave fitting attempts.hand-made coopered wooden wash tub

I still need to make handles for the wash tub. A better design would have left two opposing staves taller to have hand holes cut into them. The problem was that I was running out of good cedar and did not have anything long enough to make the handles with.  The plan is to forge some side handles to make carrying the tub easier at events.

My arms are sore from all this coopering work. I think I am going to switch over to some tinware projects for a while so I can heal up.



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.