Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.

traditional woodworking

Building a new cooper's plane at the Woodwright's School.

Coopering, Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell2 Comments

I have been wanting a good cooper's plane for a long time to use in my shop.  Finding an antique one that is in usable condition has not worked out.  The few that I have seen are completely worn out. My friend Ed S. loaned me one that he had that I thought I would use as a study piece. Here is Ed's plane.  As you can see, it has had better days.Ed's PlaneIt turned out that Roy Underhill's Woodwright School was going to be having a class over Labor Day weekend where I could make a bench jointer plane using all traditional tools and techniques. I approached Roy and the instructor, Bill Anderson about making a 6' long cooper's jointer instead of the 24" bench jointer that the other students would be making in the class.  After several rounds of emails and searching for materials Bill found a massive block of hard maple and an antique 3.5 inch wide Ward single iron. The iron came from Ed Lebetkin's great antique tool shop located above the school. It turned out that the iron had been in Ed's shop for a long time and it was a perfect fit for the plane we wanted to make.

The class was three days over Labor Day weekend.  They were full days and very physical for me, as he wood blank was hard as a rock and about all I could handle to move around.  Bill was a great instructor and very patient with my low skill level when it came to plane making.  I had no idea how much precision layout would be involved, or how many different angles had to be chopped, chiseled, parred, or filed with floats to make everything fit just right.  It was the hardest class I have ever taken, but one of the most rewarding considering how many new things I learned.

Coopering classroom

I did not take very many pictures during the class as I was hanging on for dear life to finish this beast.  Here is one of my new plane next to the antique plane that Roy and Bill found in an antique shop and purchased prior to our class.  We tried to match the antique as close as we could. I drilled the hole in the toe of the plane after getting home.

OLD and new plane

The plane in use...adjustments.

We discussed several options for the stand for my plane while in class. Most period illustrations that I found showed the plane with some sort of two-legged plane that inserted into the hole in the toe of the plane.  The lower end of the plane was usually shown bumped up against a wall, sill or heavy object to keep it in place.  I knocked together a prototype from scrap lumber to try out.

Plane with first standTwo things became apparent quickly with this type of stand. First, the plane was too low to be used comfortably at my height. I am assuming that the planes were kept low so that the cooper could really lean into the hard oak staves for barrels.  I am working with softer woods that are not hard to run down the plane.  Second, the base will not stay in place on the concrete floor, especially when it gets slick with shavings.  So I went with plan B, which is a more vertical support that clamps to the side of the plane.

Plane with new stand 2

This design is a major improvement over the first attempt.  It seems to stay locked in place well.  Drilling the second hole in the plane was traumatic, but had to be done.  I made it a few inches taller that the first setup and may shorten in later if needed.

The other adjustment that had to be made was to regrind the plane iron to fit the plane body.  The cutting edge was slightly skewed from the sole of the plane.  Once I reground and sharpened the iron all was well.

I am very happy with this plane. Thanks to Bill and the Woodwright's School I have a very nice cooper's jointer plane that should serve several generations of coopers.

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.

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.