Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

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wooden bucket

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.

I tried to make another Piggen.

CooperingRob GorrellComment

Now that I have finished up the washtub and a couple buckets, I wanted to see what else I could make from the pile of odds and ends in the cedar pile.  What is left is pretty scrappy and I ended up throwing about half of it in the woodpile for firewood.  The rest made the piggen described here and will hopefully be enough for a small straight sided cask and a small tub.  The piggen I ended up with is about 8" in diameter and 6 1/2" tall without the handle. The sides raised up pretty good this time. But I ran into problems with the crozing. I think I am cutting the groove too wide. Most of the bottoms I have made so far seem to be a little loose in the groove. You can see it in this image:

Before I start the next project I will change the design of my croze to cut a narrower groove and also try not to get the edges of the bottom tapered to thin.  This piggen looks ok from the outside but is definitely only a dry measure. It might hold syrup on a really cold day.

I also ran into a problem cutting the tops of the staves flat so the top is a bit wonky.  This project was a struggle. The thing fought me all the way and the end result shows the conflict I think.  But I'm still a beginner so I look at it as progress. After we take this piggen to a few events and it gets broken in maybe it will not look so forlorn.  Good thing I am not trying to sell this one.

I am looking forward to spring when I can start using cattail flagging to better seal the bottoms of my coopered buckets, piggens and tubs. 

Also, I just received permission from the publisher to start using a few images from Kenneth Kilby's book The Cooper and His Trade. I am excited to be able to add information and images from this great source to my blog. More about that soon.

Making a bucket at Tillers International.

Traditional woodworkingRob Gorrell1 Comment

A major goal that I have been working toward is learning to create my work using less electricity.  I want to work more with hand tools and drastically reduce the noise and dust in my shop.  Getting out of the power tool production mindset has been a long and jerky process.  But as I learn to slow down, work more efficiently with my hand tools and make things one at a time, I am enjoying my shop time more and am hopefully making better art.

Over the past couple of years I have been wanting to go to Tillers International to take a coopering class and finally made the time to go.  If you are interested in learning traditional trades such as blacksmithing, coopering or working with oxen for farming, Tillers is an organization you should take a look at.

The mission of Tillers is to "preserve, study, and exchange low-capital technologies that increase the sustainability and productivity of people in rural communities..."   One small cog in this mission is teaching coopering with hand tools and traditional techniques.  I think we only used power tools for about 5 minutes the whole weekend.

The class took place in a rustic post and beam barn workshop in the field below the main house. Next door was the blacksmith workshop.  The site is a working farm with several projects in the works and, like any farm, plenty of things that need to be done and too few people.  I especially enjoyed the free ranging chickens, goats, cats, geese, and one donkey.  Several times during the weekend the main mama goat wandered into our class to hang out and eat cedar shavings. Students are free to wander the farm and soak up the spirit of the site.  I spent the first evening at a picnic table surrounded by free range chickens poking around in the grass, which was very relaxing.

I really enjoyed the class, which included four students and two instructors.  We made a one handled bucket, or piggen, that was 10" in diameter at the top, give or take.  The instructor Chuck told us that the wood we used came from large cedar light posts from a stadium. The wood was straight-grained, clear and a joy to work.  It will be a long time before I get to work that quality of cedar again.

This was not a "wine and cheese" woodworking class.  Right off the bat we were out in the 90 degree sun splitting out the staves with a mallet and froe. Blisters popped up in short order.  From there it was off to the shaving horse to rough in the staves and get the right tapers and angles started.  A good bit of time was then spent agonizing over jointer planes with angle gauges trying to learn how to turn 13 pieces of split out cedar into 13 perfectly fitted bucket staves that will eventually hold water (I hope).

The second day was spent getting the buckets into shape with spokeshave and inshave, until they were round and reasonably true. This was followed by adding metal bands and driving them down tight to hold the bucket together.  No glue, no nails.

I left Tillers tired and sore, with a decent looking bucket, not perfect, but a decent first attempt.  It was a fun weekend in the country working with my hands and mind. I think the thing I enjoyed the most was working without the roar of power tools and dust collectors. I look forward to more practice and hopefully more classes on coopering.  Each new technique learned broadens the mind and soul and helps both create better work, and also keep traditional woodworking techniques alive.

I hope to return to Tillers in the future for more classes and time on the farm.  They are a good, friendly and dedicated group of people that make you feel very welcome in there home.