Sunday, June 29, 2014

Intergenerational Woodworking at the Stirling Men's Shed, 2014.

Another successful program completed. Recently I'd had the privilege of facilitating another woodworking program at the Stirling Men's Shed, bringing together grandparents or parents and their grand kids or kids. The last one of these was conducted in 2013, where we made tables.

This time we set out primarily to make chairs and stools. The nice change this time was this program also being open to women. The Stirling Men's Shed facilities are made available every second Saturday afternoon to the women's recreational woodworking group, "Women Working with Wood".   This opened up the possibility for the program to be both inter-generational and inter-gender!

Unfortunately, I did not get many photos along the way - nor did I get pics of every pair or their completed projects, sadly. However, the few I did capture are shown amid the text below.

Dermot and his Grandad Bert together made a stool to match some others they had at home.
The Process.
We started looking at chairs and stools, their construction, the forces at play, and how we build to increase strength in the right places while also seeking the right balance between aesthetics and functionality. With curves, angles and even compound angles, getting it right is important. The best way to do this is to do a scale drawing of the chair/stool and any critical aspects. This way you can transfer the angles and measurements from the drawing, taking away the guesswork. We did our drawings on pieces of 6mm (1/4") MDF or ply. Each pair (there was one trio) decided together what they would be making before embarking on their drawing process. Once the direction was established, the participants could start with their cutting list, gather the materials, and start making components using the gear in this great facility.

Callum and his Grandad Bob working on their nice kitchen chair together.
The Joinery.
Participants could use whatever jointing method they liked, but I encouraged people to try out using furniture dowels. This was a new experience for many, but like any joint-making in woodworking, it's all in the accuracy of the marking out - and getting your head around the angles etc. The Shed has a nice big old horizontal dowelling/slot-mortising machine, which is rarely utilised. It needed a bit of work to become functional (thanks, Ashley!), but between that machine, the drill press, and some good self-centring dowelling jigs which I have, the dowelling process could be easily done - so long as you got your head around the boring angles. Here's a tip: always bore the holes perpendicular to the meeting faces!  
What a duet! Kanta and her son Aneesh made this nice piano stool together.
It has a music compartment under the hinged upholstered lid.
The Wood.
Unless you brought your own timber, the material made available to us for the project was predominantly pine. Some of this was structural, some was recycled, and some of this had formerly been packing crates. Whatever the source, the important thing is careful selection of the material to ensure no knots will end up in critical places, that you can machine the material down to the required dimensions, and that you can maximise the use of the timber. Just good old prudent timber selection... Most of the finished chairs and stools were going to be stained to their makers' preferred finish.

Hugh and grandson Cameron made and upholstered this nice stool together.
A number of the chairs and stools would have upholstered seats and the rest had solid seats. I had brought my upholstery gear and some basic materials along, for those who needed it. For many it was the first time they'd tried this. While they discovered that it is mostly pretty straight forward, it is the corners which are tricky. Despite this, they all did a pretty good job of the upholstering. Those participants who upholstered their seats can justifiably be proud of what they did.

Suzanne and grandson Malachi made a good bedside table together, complete with drawer.
The days Suzanne couldn't be there, Malachi's Dad was on board. Another family effort!
The Results.
It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. The pics through this post have many stories to tell. All of the participants have much to smile about - they've made some nice furniture, and they travelled the journey together. Together they have shared the learnings, the ideas, the tasks, the frustrations, the anticipation and the satisfaction. There is always something new to learn, and it was great to spend time together working on a common project.

Grandad Bernie with Aidan, Eilish and their Dad Roger.
A real family effort designing and making this beaut pair of stools. 
Many thanks to the City of Stirling for sponsoring this great program, and to the Stirling Men's Shed for giving us access to their fantastic facilities over the five consecutive Saturday mornings to undertake the program.

Raff and his grandad Ashley together built this nice chair with a shaped wooden seat.
It also has a relief carved anchor and ship's wheel on the fore and aft of the backrest.
The Benefits.
How to you measure the value of a program like this? Yes, there were opportunities for each participant to learn a few woodworking skills and techniques along the way, and experience the process of drawing up a piece of furniture and taking the construction through to completion. There is also something tangible and practical that they have made together, in the form of useful pieces of furniture.
Amid these worthwhile outcomes sit other less quantifiable but probably more valuable things - the chance to create something together. Time together. Working together around a common goal. A shared experience. Wonderful stuff.

...Positively Priceless.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Camphor Laurel Adventure.

While picking up some nice WA Blackbutt timber recently from Derek Doak The Timber Bloke, I came away with a bonus - a big chunk of Camphor Laurel. Thanks, Derek!

The two crotch sections about to be cut from the log.
The crotch from the end of the log Derek would be able to use. The next crotch in was less useful to him to recover timber, as it was a bit complicated being a four way fork. I reckoned it would be worth seeing what I could recover from this big crotch, even if it was only spoon material!
Big and VERY heavy - loaded by the forklift.
Normally, for green woodworking, we want nice straight grained log sections. These are more likely to split evenly. This big piece of Camphor Laurel was anything but straight! It was going to be a gamble, and a bit of an adventure...

I had to use levers to manoeuvre the stump off the back of the ute. THUMP! 
Once off the back of the ute, the big chunk was sitting in my driveway. Totally unmovable, it was time to make it much smaller.

Picking a line to cleave the log in two. Pencil line through the pith.
The other end of the chunk had a 20 inch (500mm) diameter.
The three branches were primarily coming off one side, so my aim was to cleave off the clear section. This guided my choice of a line - which had to pass through the pith (the very centre of the tree). The pith would also fork at least three times, as it goes up the centre of each of the branches too. We need to miss those forks in the pith in the process. Well, that's the plan, anyway!

Too big for the froe, this job calls for a line of wedges to be driven in with a sledge hammer.
The split develops...
As the split developed, I removed some of the bark with a hatchet in order to follow the split. It wasn't looking like we'd be getting a clean separation - there were interlocking fibres going everywhere. More pounding on the wedges followed.

Running out of wedge length on the end, it was time to follow the split down the sides.
As the split formed and gradually opened as it spread down the log with the aid of side wedges, it was becoming apparent that the interlocking fibres were preventing a clean split. Not a good sign, these fibres were stopping the log from cleaving apart. These would need to be cut. With little room to get the hatchet in there between the wedges, I used a nice sharp firmer chisel to chop through the bridging fibres. A tedious job, the popping sounds coming from the log were encouraging.
In the absence of a big slick, I used a firmer chisel to chop off some of the fibres bridging the split. 
Resisting all the way, this was how the split emerged at the other end.

The big crowbar helped finish the separation. A nasty separation. Not clean at all!
A good view of the wild fibres. No wonder it took a huge effort to cleave the back off this big chunk!
As the forming split had indicated, the section was twisted as well as wild. This is evident in the photo above. While I did successfully cleave the back off the beast, this big twist and wild interlocking grain was going to really limit what we could do with the whole log. Time to see if we can successfully cleave in two the good flitch I had removed.

A line picked to cleave the good section in two. Note the wild twisting grain.

Even with the "good" section cleaved in two, it still wasn't looking good.
Decision time...
It was clear that I would gain little benefit from trying to keep breaking the material down in this manner. So to maximise this gnarly big chunk of Camphor Laurel, it was clear the best use would be to use the chainsaw to create a range of bowl blanks and spoon blanks. Time to plug in the trusty electric chainsaw. The two long "clean" pieces I had riven from the back of the chunk were twisted, so first I would cut these in half lengthwise...

The first of many bowl blanks. Thanks, trusty chainsaw.
A bit more work with the chainsaw would create a nice stack of bowl blanks.

Eight big bowl blanks and a couple of chunks to offer up a number of spoon blanks.
The important thing about the bowl blanks is that there needs to be no pith running along or through the blank, as this is were splitting will take place in the finished bowl. I was pretty happy to be able to successfully obtain 8 bowl blanks from a big chunk with 3 side forks!

This was the first time I have tried to cleave a big piece of green Camphor Laurel. Was the interlocking grain and it's unfriendly nature normal for this tree species? I don't know...
I knew the big chunk would be tricky, due to the forks in it. While I won't be making stools from this log, I have obtained a pile of very nice bowl blanks! They will be very handy for the workshop I have coming up in 2 weeks. I put the bowl blanks in plastic bags to retain the moisture content.
Thanks again, Derek.

Wow. The over-powering smell of camphor in my front yard is amazing, hours later!