Sunday, December 7, 2014

Benches among the till

 Some two weeks after moving into this house our side doorbell chimed, a woman we did not know. "Hello, I grew up in this house.  Can I come in?" "Yes, yes, come in!"   Her grandfather built this house in 1894.  Like her sister, chair #4, she ordered a chair for herself, and four of these table/benches for her grown children.  (In internet searches for chairs I saw a bench like it in a Welsh cottage, and, liking the cut-off corners began experimenting with my own.  Some, like the photo, I make with all four corners cut at45 degrees.  This is the type II, two corners at 45 degrees and  two at 20 degrees.  They can be either benches or tables.  
 Amongst  the elm are many very nice pieces not large enough for chair seats, hence.)

This is the group of four sitting on the now bare soil where I grow potatoes. (Yukon gold, Red norland and Purple Viking.)  And yes, that is elm sawdust.

The tops are all mostly the same size, 12 1/2" x 21".  Elm legs wedged with elm.  The colors here are a bit pale, as we were forced to shoot outside on a cold overcast day.  Actual colors are more orange, as in the chairs below.  These sell for $95 to some $135, so, less than the chairs.  (Yes, that is a frozen green tomato in the foreground.)

 They are exceedingly sturdy to stand on as well.

The line is in the wood. 

I like this one best of all. The white running off the opposite corners is dramatic.

The new lights for indoor photography have arrived, and these should be the last low light, outdoor photos.  We will soon have close ups of wedges, plus shots of the shop operations.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Chair #4.

Chair number four was made for one of the sisters who grew up in this house, and after it was shipped, (to New York), the sister in Tripp has ordered one for herself, and four small benches for her children.  ( It's really chair number 5; chair number four sits in the shop yet incomplete.  The holes for the rear legs were bored too far forward and until I glued on the 'Flash Gordon' spurs, it tipped rearward at the slightest provocation.)

Right side

This chair, though not apparent from the photos, is a bit lower to the ground than the previous, and the comb is 2 inches lower.  Its owner is 5'4", and it was made to fit.  We think the seat is stunning.  Quarter sawn elm in its striped and bees-wing figured splendor!  I seem to have solved almost all  the fitting difficulties; there is no tear out at the spindle holes, and no forcing of spindles was required to meet up with the holes.  The seat was adzed and scorped from one piece of quarter sawn elm, a blank 24 inches wide and 40 inches long.  (Hello Harry in England; I have a few more.  I'd send you one gratis, but the shipping would probably sink you.  Sorry.)

The seat

Seven spindles.  Legs a bit more upright than the others, but well balanced in relation to one another.  I like odd numbers for spindles, five or seven.


The front

  Two coats of amber shellac before the spar varnish blend.  Western wheat grass.
This chair is easily the best made so far, and will be the standard to which I work from here on.  

Chairs, Welsh stick #1, #2, #3.

Quoting myself from April, "The first seat was almost finished today...".  Hmm, almost is a long time.  Here is the first Chair, fitted out with chair seat number two. Five spindles, elm legs and several coats of amber shellac preceding the traditional American finish of spar varnish, turpentine and linseed oil.  The mistakes cannot be seen; though I will point out the two outside spindles.  The flare out only by accident, though we like the effect.  The top piece, the comb comes from one piece, resawn, glued together and shaped with spokeshave and draw knife.  The curved arm is one piece of steam bent elm.  They are very, very comfortable.

Chair the 1st

Chair #1

The same chair from the left side.  The curve at the back of the seat is the section of a circle.  The five short spindles are 5/8" in diameter, and the arm is 10.25 inches above the seat.  The long spindles taper from 5/8" in the seat to 1/2" in the comb.  The various flaws and difficulties in the bent arm do no show in this photo.  We are very happy with the flare of the legs.  Like the stools, the seat is 18-18 1/2 inches above the ground/floor. And like the stools, the seats are undercut at 15 degrees to create a thinner appearance. The front of the seat is 1 1/2" higher than the rear.  This tilt, and the shaping of the elm seat account for the great ease sitting in these chairs.  (Thank you Welshman John Brown, Requiescat in pace.) 


 Chair the 2nd

The first seat made lives on the second chair.  Many changes, seven spindles, and the legs angled slightly differently .  Though elm does not split, during steam bending it tend to separate at the tiniest pin knots.  We lost four of six on the first attempt.  (I will have steam box photos eventually, in the next six months or so...heh.)  Consequently, I have been making the arm from three pieces of steam bent elm, 1 1/4" x 7/16" x 54".  All three pieces are bent on the form simultaneously and later glued up with Titebond II.  Many problems are thus solved with this technique, and  the appearance is quite good.  (The lamination is not apparent to the unschooled eye.)  The top comb is made the same way; here with three pieces of 5/16" x 4" x 18".  (I start with 24" lengths for the comb and cut the excess after steam bending.  It is very difficult to bend several short, wide pieces.  Mostly the combs come from the quarter-sawn elm.  See the photos from April 23, with the house in the background.  Those clean edges are the quarter-sawn stuff.)                 

  Chair the 2nd  

There is a bit less direct light in this photo; the true color is above.  Again some amber shellac has been applied before the spar varnish blend.  Here there are seven long spindles, on 2 inch centers, so wider apart than Chair the 1st.  And with no shot of the seat, the beautiful pattern therein cannot be seen, sorry.  However, the troubles I had with aligning the holes cannot be seen either.  (There are some 14 oops plugs on this one.  Curiously enough, the unschooled eyes don't notice them either.)

Chair #3 has eight spindles, and ash legs.  (Ash in this part of the world is Pennsylvania green ash, and not northern white ash.  It has brown heartwood, subject to rot.  After Siberian elm, the green ash is the next most populous tree in the windbreaks, followed by cedar, and honey locust and lots of lilac.)  We hope to make ash seats someday.  There is not shellac on this chair, just the elm's natural color.  We think it's like pale dry autumn grasses.  With shellac, the color resembles the state grass or South Dakota, Pascopyrum smithii ,western wheat grass.


The front view shows the eight long spindles a bit more clearly.  And yes, there is a bit of twist on the arm, right side if sitting down, left side as seen here.  The problem has been solved in the next chair with better clamping technique.  Steam bent and laminated arm and comb again.


Benches & Foot stools

These photos were taken in May, (note the lovely wildflowers.)  As is apparent from the circular end grain, this piece of elm was cut from a log with a large limb at one end.  End grain is, of course, subject to splitting as it dries, elm not withstanding.  In this case the splitting is minimal.  The swirls and figure of end grain are quite beautiful.  (The mate to this bench lives in the house with us.)  The standard height for these benches is 18 inches. Widths 12-13 inches, lengths 18-20.  The size depends on the slab. They can also be used as small side tables.
This angle shows off the grain to more advantage.  Elm all the way, top and legs.  On this one, the four corners are cut off at 45 degrees.  Others are made with two corners on one side cut at 45 degrees, and two cut  at about 20 degrees.  Actual thickness is  2 inches, but I've undercut all four edges at 15 degree before cutting off the corners.  The top looks thinner and less heavy.  (We want sturdy, but not clunky. Note the actual thickness  above the left front leg.)

Here is an earlier, different footstool, of pine with wedged, ash legs.  It is smaller, only 12 inches by 15, and some 12 inches high.  (The pine came from the most well built out-house any of us may ever see.)  The walls of the pit were lined with pine.  The structure was fir 2x4's, with tongue & groove pine inside, redwood siding outside.  The ventilation was enclosed below the concrete pad and screened.  Concrete pedastals  supported two very well made wooden seats and covers, at two different heights.   There are no photos; too bad. All that remains is the concrete.  By the time we arrived much was rotting away.  A lot of the redwood was salvageable, and the very little good pine became this style of foot stool.  A couple of weeks after we we moved into this house in October of 2013 a woman who still lives in Tripp knocked at the door.  "Hello.  I grew up in this house, can I come look around?"  In September of this year she and several sisters and children all visited the house on the occasion of their family reunion.  As for the 25 years preceding our arrival the two acres was mostly mulched with 38 Chryslers and Dodges we've been told many times how happy they, and many townspeople are that we've moved in.  It was, I believe one of them told us the outhouse had been built by the WPA.  

  Here the sliding dovetails can be seen. The cleat is not glued in place, only fitted snugly in the female dovetail cut in the seat bottom.  (Yes, the cleat is some 1/8" shorter on both sides than the width of the top; it makes a pleasant detail.)  This particular stool was donated to the American Legion Ladies auxiliary of Post 142, Jelkin-Harms, Tripp. They raffled it off during the October Ladies' auxiliary bingo. ( Jelkin is Wilbur Jelkin, killed in WWI.  Harms is brothers Donald and Fred Harms, both killed in WWII.  Requiescat in pace.) 

The foot stool below preceded the one above. (Note the crack in the end, and the somewhat dirty appearance of the pine.)  The legs are set in from the ends more than I prefer, and too vertical for my liking.  Ash legs again, wedged with some Ziricote or maybe Cocobolo, both native to South Dakota...not really.

 The dovetail cleat is thicker than the top, and is therefore out of proportion.  And the ends are not set in as above. Though they are at a very good height for removing or putting on shoes.

 Moving further back in time we see this footstool, made from stock ripped off a small log with a chainsaw.  (Before the arrival of the Amish horses.)  It's clunky, and has filler from epoxy and elm dust in the splits, and is a favorite.  The colors really are true to life; the edges are as golden orange as seen here, and the ash legs as white.  It is made of four pieces glued up and shaped.  It's very comfortable to sit on.  (Do you milk goats?)  It is some 11 inches high and about 10 inches by 16.

The light lines are sapwood. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Band Saw mill, & Horses.

When these  photos of the band saw milling were taken, only some of the smaller logs were milled.  To give some perspective on the vary large logs later sawn, we've included this photo of a topped elm.  (Yes, it's burnt a bit.)  It is easily 44" in diameter.  In the foreground, wearing a piece of orange surveyor's tape is a poor quality ash tree, also removed, and now mostly firewood.  But behind it, to the left, and with shingles stacked on top, is one of the butt logs that was later quarter sawn.  And between the ash and the elm, and in the background, is an elm log, lying horizontally, that was milled.  We cut it into three lengths, of maybe 65" each.  The diameter was 33".  The pile of brush behind it is the top limbs and branches.  That building is our 22' x 29' barn, where we hope to house rabbits, and something that gives eggs.

The mill looks rickety, but cut extremely well, and very accurately.  It runs off a gasoline engine, and self feeds, with the operator controlling the speed while he walks along.  Notice the feed chain by the word 'VOLUNTEER'.

This is the very first log cut after the first pass.  It's maybe 14" by 80".

The same log during a second pass to clear away that limb butt and top.
Notice that the spokes are not visible in the wheel; this photo is mid cut.  The various height, tension and width controlling handles are visible.

And now the stars of the show, the draft horses that brought the mill from my Amish friend's place three miles distant, and dragged the logs to the mill with the stone boat.

 Considerable man power was used to roll and pry the logs up these 4x4's and onto the carriage.  We regret not having more photos of the vary largest logs.  And no, we took no photos of my Amish friend and his son, who, by himself lifted most of the slabs off the bed of the mill.  Ah, young muscles!
The first chair seat was almost finished today; the adzing and scorping are finished.  And my blades to make a curved bottom scraper, and  curved both ways plane are ready to be picked up at the machinist in Parkston tomorrow.  Very soon we may be boring holes in the seat and driving home the first legs.  The steamer comes early next week, so bending can commence.  "Viva Christo Rey"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ulmus pumilla, Siberian elm.

Photos of the 2" elm slabs cut by my Amish neighbor with his bandsaw mill.  We currently have some 2600 board feet, mostly cut through and through, though the big butts from the 42" & 39" diameter trees  near the house were quarter-sawn.  We will be making chairs, of the 'Welsh Stick Chairs' variety, from the book of the same name.  Octagonal, tapered legs through saddle seats adzed from the planks, and various steam-bent parts for arms, backs etc.  Plus spindles from ash, elm or mulberry, the various windbreak trees planted, planted and volunteering here in South Dakota.

The slabs at the bottom of the stack above are some 16"-18" wide and 90" long.  On top of them is some of the shorter, quarter-sawn stuff.  Behind it, not visible, are slabs 24"-26" by some 66" long.  Siberian elm is nothing like American elm in color, as it is mostly heartwood, not sapwood; the grain is not interlocked, and it dries to a light brown, like coffee with lots of cream.  
 Here's the front view of the south facing kiln.  It is 99" wide, and at the top, about 87" high.  Depth is some 55" or so.  The windows area is about 90" x 60".  (All of the materials came from a building left for us on the property here, a building the former owners used for smoking cigarettes, made entirely from pallets.  We call it the 'Pallet Palace'.)
 Here is the back, with, obviously, doors open.  The inside is insulated with fiberglass, and the insulation is covered with black plastic to protect it from all the humidity.  In front of the slabs, we stapled down all the roofing paper from the 'Pallet Palace', as an impact resistant facing.  The floors are OSB, painted black.  It sits on 4x6's, which rest on bricks, and in  the center is a steel u-channel.  (From a buried car part, part of the clothesline.  The previous owners were car people; they mulched the brome grass on our two acres with 38 Chryslers, Plymouths and Dodges.) 

The light colored areas are fiberglass from a shower stall.  The upper piece has a cut-out into which the fan fits nicely.  The larger piece below the fan is a suspended baffle to help direct the air through the planks.  On either side are two hanging pieces of metal, salvaged from a door, once used for a picnic table top here, and, now painted black, serving nicely as absorbers.  There is also metal roofing sitting on stickers on top of the pile, as another absorber.   

Outside the doors, high and low, left and right are sliding plywood pieces for ventilation.  The kiln has only been loaded some four days or so now, and on a sunny day, with the fan off, it's been above 130 degrees F.  We're still experimenting with the vents, but so far only the top vents seem to need opening, and then only one inch or so.  (There are lots of cracks and crevices helping with ventilation.)  It does seem to be working, as the insides of the glass are covered with condensation in the morning.  We guess that it will take several weeks to remove appreciable moisture, but as we are not going for flat, un-twisted boards with 12% moisture content, but chair parts, central heat dryness is not necessary.

The loading area is quite small; maybe, were all the slabs uniform, 36" high, 86" left to right, and some 36" deep.  With irregular edged planks, we've fit in what can be fit in. My rough calculations show a capacity of maybe 250-300 board feet.  
 Here I am chasing away our black cat, 'Toe-toe', aka 'The Black Varmint', who, though thumbless, somehow managed to tag the side of the kiln with white spray paint.  The boards there were the best of the lot from the Palace, which I ship-lapped and nailed on.  They probably don't need black paint, though maybe green would be nice.

As of yesterday, the first chair seat is roughly adzed, and the first four tapered octagonal  legs are made.  (The trees were felled back in October; initial contact with the Amish gentleman about his bandsaw mill made in February, and the slabs were finally cut in April.  My hands are slowly recovering from hefting planks.  We will eventually have photos of the various tools, the shaving horse, my seat adzing station, and the rest.

We have, as said, two acres here, one acre wide and two deep.  Some 12,000 square feet in the north end is plowed, and will be planted with sweet clover, red clover and white clover, besides, we hope, pulses, various fodder beets, potatoes, maybe emmer.  There will be some ten fruit trees, and various other plantings.  Enough for now.  "Viva Christo Rey!"