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New Chair, Old Wire

April 30, 2017

Over the past few months, I have been working on an armchair. It is similar to the pair that I sold last Fall to my Aunt and Uncle in Virginia.

P1010997The originals had rope seats, as you can see in the picture. I had to buy the rope which I am not so keen on, and so when I ran out in the middle of making this seat, I tried a number of things instead. I attempted to weave using less rope in different patterns, but none was very satisfactory. I tried using twigs and rope, which worked, but I didn’t like the look. Then I tried a semi woven pattern using very heavy gauge copper wire. I have had the wire for years, but it is so stiff  (it is about 1/4″ in diameter) that it really hasn’t worked for anything in the past.

As I was struggling with the wire, it occurred to me for the first time since I found it that it is probably the wire that was originally used to electrify the barnyard. It hangs from very crude insulators on several trees and then drops to the ground, where it is buried under the leaf litter between several of the barns.

The farm has been in my family since the 1840’s, but my grandfather, Richardson White was the first one to try his hand as a farmer in the 1930’s. He built and/or oversaw the construction of several of the farm buildings (including an blacksmith shop, a tomato barn, a saw mill, horses stalls, and an ox barn – wherein I play furniture maker). This was in the early to mid 1930’s and this would have been just about when electricity would have been installed in these sorts of buildings for the first time.

My grandfather’s father also lived on the farm (at least he did in the summer) while working in Boston. He commuted by train when he was in Cohasset. The rest of the year he walked from his home on Marlborough street, Back Bay to his job at MGH every day. He had a couple phobias. On was a fear of burglaries, and apparently had multiple locks on his many doors. He was also frightened of the possibility of fire, particularly on the farm. I don’t know whether it was a relief when they replaced the gas fixtures in his house on the farm with electricity, but I do know that it did not end his concern. Even when he had his own family, my grandfather ate dinner with his father. My grandfather’s livelihood depended on rain, for sure, but also on sunny weather in abundance enough to dry out the hay he fed his livestock, to dry out the fields enough to plow, and to nurture the vegetables he trucked into Boston. Yet my father, Donald recalls my great grandfather dining with his family and exclaiming to one and all that, “what this country needs is a good soaking rain!” To which my grandfather could only grumble quietly to himself.  When I was a teenager.  I had a copper bracelet that I had bought in Northern Michigan.  While i was visiting my grandfather, someone asked what it was.  I explained that I only knew for sure what one of the symbols on it meant, rain.  My grandfather was kind enough to merely groan, but refrained from throwing it out the window.

So after decades transmitting electricity to the barnyard barns, some old copper wire is holding up a seat on a twiggy chair.  And I think once again on my good fortune getting to be a part of a long chain.

 

 

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Back in the Saddle

April 18, 2017

It has been a long time since i have written anything, and rather than write about that, i am just going to post some pictures and try to work my way back into posting more regularly.  Here are a bunch of benches i have made over the past year or two.  Many of them are made of walnut from some trees that were taken down to increase the sunshine on the educational garden round the other side of the barnyard.  Several of the benches were made as gifts.  The most special (to my mind) is the love seat.  It was made from an enormous oak tree that came down some years ago.  I convinced my brother, Owen to help me split a slab off its trunk.  He saw immediately that i didn’t have nearly enough wedges to do the job and that i had totally underestimated the difficulty.  But he worked on it with me for hours.  It was cold and exhausting, and initially unsuccessful.  But the following week i bought more wedges and finished the job.  The following summer i cut it down to size and made the seat, and a year after that, July 2016)  i was able to present it to him and his wonderful bride, Lyra at their wedding.

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I hope you enjoy these pictures.  I should have more soon.

More Stuff

August 9, 2016

No excuses, I’m just not feeling much like writing. However, I have been making stuff, despite the very hot weather. So, this post will be mostly pictures.

There were a number of infrastructure projects that needed to be taken care of. Firstly, there was a leak in some plumbing that runs in front of the ox barn. To repair it, a large hole had to be dug in front of the shop to get at the cutoff valves. I did not do this job. However, when it was done i did fill in the hole. See the hole. See it filled in. Yeah!

My father and brother Arthur are having quite a bit of work done on the surrounding buildings. They are also getting the ox barn clapboarded. So, I decided to build new doors for the ox barn. I am planning on painting them soon. The last bit of infrastructure was to deal with the heat and sun. I put up a large canvas awning. It is supported by bamboo poles from my front yard. I am glad they’re of some use, given what a pain they can be.

The first new piece of furniture is a love seat I made for my brother Owen and his new wife Lyra for their wedding. The seat comes from a large oak trunk that he agreed to help me split a couple years ago. The trunk was huge and we were woefully unprepared (only two wedges) and I know he thought the enterprise was mad. But he hardly squawked at all, and gave it his all. We got it partially split. I bought a few more wedges and finished the job and this is the result. I hope they enjoy it for a good long time. Lastly, a new Adirondack-type chair. It is a full sized chair with short legs, and it is quite comfortable. That will do it for now. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Stove in the Ox Barn – 2016

February 8, 2016

After a strange non- winter, we have gotten a couple storms in a couple weeks. Today is my second snow day of the year. I may even be able to get out into the woods next week and do a little harvesting. In the meantime, I have finished a couple recent projects. Today I finished a new pair of deerskin gloves with rabbit fur lining. Here are some pictures.  This is my third pair of deerskin gloves and first with the backs completely linded.

 

The other big project was the repair and installation of an old woodstove I found in one of the barns. When I found it, the stove was covered in rust. I thought it was a stove that had been in the Kennedy Cottage when I lived there. (The Kennedy cottage was named for Dick Kennedy a farm hand who worked for my grandfather in the late 20’s. Dick Kennedy and his wife and three children all lived in the tiny two-room cottage. Later, the cottage was used by my grandparents on weekends while they lived in Brookline before they built the “Big House”.) As I worked on the stove I realized it was not the Kennedy Cottage stove. I was surprised that, although I had all sorts of identification on the stove, I found very little on the Web about the model. I found a picture of the stove in the catalog of the Adirondack Museum, and plenty of mentions of the company that made it, but nothing about the model #124

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I brought the stove to my day job, Dearborn Academy, and one of my students got very involved in refurbishing the stove. It was great to see his interest, and a great help in getting it all done. We started by taking the whole thing apart and removing the old stove putty. I was able to remove most of the bolts using Liquid Wrench Penetrating Oil. I have to give credit where credit is due. The stuff worked very well. It smells as if it has some sort of solvent other than the oil, and I wouldn’t want to spend to much time working with the stuff. But it did a better job than the other penetrating oils I usually use. We used a wire brush on a corded drill to do most of the work. Actually, we used a couple different wire brushes to get into the different shaped spaces. After we cleaned off the rust we applied stove polish. This is another smelly job, but it really looked beautiful after the job was done.

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I bought a new set of fasteners from the Bolt Depot and was ready for re-assembly. I took the whole thing down to the Holly Hill and put it together, sealing all the joints with stove putty.

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I will not go into the trials and tribulations of getting the stove pipe, but I will mention that it was such a drag trying to figure out what I needed and where to get the parts that I very nearly gave up several times. I have been thinking of putting a small stove into my shop for years, but the odd thing is that even on the coldest days, it is always quite cozy. I have often mused that perhaps the residual heat from those beloved oxen that lived in the barn all those years ago is still emanating in that special spot. It is really only on the very coldest and cloudiest days that it is cold in that barn. But last weekend I gave the stove a test fire. The permanent stovepipe is not in place, but I put a temporary pipe up through the roof and lit a fire that was sufficient to set the stove putty and burn off the polish residue. February break is next week, and I will try to get the chimney finished. That is if there is not too much snow on the roof.

Stump Stools

July 31, 2015

The dew point has finally fallen below 70 degrees. It is dry enough to sit in our sunroom (where the computer resides) and do a bit of writing. A real writer cannot be kept from writing. I learned long ago that I am a real tinkerer. In grad school (Columbia School of International and Public Affairs) the accomplishment that made me the proudest was repairing the beautiful old Electrolux vacuum cleaner I had with nothing but my pocketknife. It takes very little to put me off writing, though I like it, but nothing can put me off tinkering.
This has been a really good summer for me. I have been feeling well and getting lots done, both at home and in the ox barn (or the “studio” as some of my visitors have pleasingly called it.) My attempt to have a sale last month was a total failure, but that’s fine. The past few weeks I have had more visitors than I did at the official “open house”. And, as thrilled as I would be to sell some of my work, it is still talking with folks about it, especially the kids, that I enjoy most of all. It is still a treat to see youngsters visiting the farm and enjoying the barnyard. One of my favorite attractions is Abby the goat. Not sure what it is about her, but we seem to have a special bond.

Selfie with Abby

Dear Abby

As you may know, we had a bit of snow this winter – many feet of it. But it was a dry spring. The growing season started out looking as though it might be a very dry summer and a lot of the growth was stunted. But since mid to late June the rain has be sufficient and things on the farm have been growing nicely. They have even started selling tomatoes. I have made it down to the farm most Saturdays and have made quite a few new pieces. In particular I have made a few “stump stools”

Stump Stool

Stump Stool

I start with a short log and split it in half. This is easily accomplished with a sledge hammer and a couple of wedges (provided, of course, that the grain is straight). For my latest I had to cut it to square up the end as well. Fortunately, I had my magic saw to do the work for me. Otherwise it might have taken an hour or so and been mighty sweaty work.

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After getting the half stump the right shape I have to figure out whether to flatten the seat or make it concave. The latter is preferable, but challenging. I have tried using a variety of tools – adze, slick, block plane, spokeshave – all with varying success. The adze and the slick (a 3” wide chisel with a two foot handle) leave a very rough surface, at least when I am doing it. The block plane leaves a flat surface. The configuration of the spokeshave makes it difficult to work wood wider than the tool face. There is a type of plane made for this sort of work called a compass plane.

Adjustable Compass Plane (convex)

Adjustable Compass Plane (convex)


Throat of the Plane

Throat of the Plane

It has a sole that is curved to plane a curved surface. I have had an adjustable compass plane for a couple years, but have never been able to get it to work because the throat (the opening in the sole of the plane that the blade peeks through) of the plane gets smaller when the plane is set to do convex work. This week I finally took a small file to the throat of the plane and tried to enlarge it. I will see tomorrow whether this worked. In the meantime I bought a convex sole plane from Lie-Nielson tools. [If you haven’t heard of Lie-Nielson check out their website to see some of the pertiest tools in the world. They are wicked expensive and I reserve buying them for special occasions. In this case because Lee Valley – another great source for tools that are very reasonably priced – didn’t have an equivalent.] The Lie-Nielson plane is a beauty (although it was slightly smaller than I expected) and it worked perfectly out of the box (you can expect that with this company).

Lie-Nielson Plane

Lie-Nielson Plane

Using the little convex plane (convex plane to make a concave seat) I got the seat to the general shape I was after then I finished up with a card scraper. I will try to write about card scrapers some other time, but they are blades and despite their name when used properly they cut rather than scrape.

Card Scrapers

Card Scrapers

They are great for smoothing surfaces and can leave a better finish than sandpaper.
After I have shaped and finished the surface of the seat I flip it all over and drill four holes for the legs. I generally drill then at a slight angle for stability with my two inch auger. This is basically a large auger bit, but rather than going into a bit brace, it has a permanent wooden “T” handle. I bore holes approximately 3” deep and then decide what sort of legs to give it. I have used a froe to split billets and then round the ends that are going into the holes and leaving the legs very rough. I have used interesting bits of saplings such as in the first picture. Notice one of the legs has a deep spiral groove in it made by a strangling vine. And sometimes I use the shave horse and spokeshaves to shape a leg. I could of course use a lathe if I had one available down at the farm. In any case, once the legs are fitted and inserted, I through a coat of Danish oil on it and it’s done. The first one I made years ago to put my tool chest on. I had arrived at a craft fair and didn’t have anything to serve that purpose. I was able to find a short log in the firewood pile and turn it into a suitable stand in about forty minutes. I have enjoyed making them every since.
As always I will try to write more regularly, but there is always so much tinkering to be done.

Open House and Sale Saturday July 11th

June 30, 2015

While I have done no writing for the past four or five months, I have been making furniture. If you are anywhere near Cohasset, Mass July 11, swing by Holly Hill Farm (226 Jerusalem Rd) and say, “hi”. I’ll have most of my stuff out for viewing (and purchase if the spirit moves you). I’ll also be working if you want to see how it’s done.

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A New Experience

February 18, 2015

This is February vacation week, though with all the snow days we’ve had this month one would hardly know the difference. Even if we had school this week, Monday was Presidents’ Day and that would have been the fourth Monday in a row with no school. I have spent plenty of time outside this month, along with untold thousands of my fellow New Englanders, shoveling. But somehow I have not felt particularly productive. So, I started the break by making a new pair of mittens. I had just enough elk skin lying around to make a replacement for my old deerskin pair. As much as I liked the old pair, I think the new ones are a definite improvement. The pattern for the new ones came from a company that makes patterns for re-enactors. In addition to the mittens, I have made a couple pairs of gloves, which as you can see from the picture, get quite a bit of use. But for the mittens I decided to use my old sewing machine, instead of sewing by hand, as I did for the gloves. The machine is a beauty, but it takes a while to get tuned up each time I use it, which is not often, and it can make me a little crazy until it is going smoothly.

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With my new mittens, I decided to head down to the farm, not on my usual Saturday trip, but on a Tuesday. The traffic was lousy. As you may have heard, the commuter situation in Boston these days is horrendous. The T (subway) is running about 30% capacity, and they are literally hiring folks off the street to shovel the outdoor lines. Yesterday I heard they were paying thirty dollars an hour! (I thought they should consider trading T passes.) For me, the best parts of the drive are when I can view the ocean. So, I always look forward to Wollaston Beach in Quincy and from Hingham Harbor on down to the farm. This time, Wollaston Beach was hidden behind massive piles of snow many as tall as fifteen feet. However between the piles I could glimpse a frozen Quincy Bay. With no wind, the water was frozen well out into the bay. The Northbound traffic was making very slow progress up Rte. 3a. As far South as Weymouth traffic was a crawl. At Forest Avenue, the small beach was also frozen. Against the rocks the slush water sloshed about disconsolately, but a few feet out it was frozen and appeared frozen several hundred feet out into the ocean.

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When I got to Cohasset the street pavement disappeared and I didn’t see it again until I left.

When I pulled into the barnyard, it looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Snow was piled everywhere. The road down to the turn around was plowed only as far as the blacksmith shop. I drove my truck to the ox barn and went to check in with my Aunt Jean. She told me that my Cousin Charlie , who lives up in the woods with his family, has been doing a great job plowing the main drive. But even on a farm, there is only so much room. Every so often a friend with a Bobcat front-end loader comes by to scoop up the great piles and move them out of the way. Nugget the horse was frantic because he couldn’t see his little pal Pumpkin the pony in the paddock (the drifts were so high). And they couldn’t be in the same paddock because there was so much snow.

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One paddock was filled right up to the top of the top rail of its fence.

The first thing I did after checking in with Aunt Jean was shovel my way into the oxbarn. My first job for the day was replacing the sled chase I had broken the previous week. Then I went out into the barnyard and pulled some of the snow off of a couple roofs. Most of it had been raked by someone else, but I try to help out where I can. Then I decided to go snowshoeing.
If you read my last post you will know that during last week’s outing into the woods I had some trouble with the snowshoes I made. The toes of the shoes kept getting stuck in the snow and I would stumble forward. Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this week I had a much easier time of it. The bad news is that I used an old pair of snowshoes that I did not make. This time I was not pulling the sled, so that may turn out to be the problem. But if it really is design of the shoes, I will hang mine up on the wall and switch to these new old shoes. In any case, the hike was truly unlike any hike I have ever taken on the farm. There was so much snow that the trails became purely theoretical. The horse briar, which normally makes the woods so impassable, was buried under three to four feet of snow and it was possible to walk anywhere. Stone walls, small streams, underbrush, poison ivy, I was tromping above it all. At one point I caught a glimpse of a small, dark, possibly canine sort of critter. It was about fifty yards off and I was able to walk directly toward it. In the summer, not only would I never have seen it, but it would have extremely difficult to approach it through the underbrush. But I made a beeline toward it to looks for tracks. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them. I walked straight to where I thought I saw it and found nothing at all. I can only imagine that it had a den in the vicinity and was safely ensconced inside. I saw no tracks in the area. One thing I did find was the largest oak tree I have ever seen down there.

I would say its circumference was well over double my arm span (that is, just under six feet or twelve feet total). And that was at my chest height plus the three feet of snow I was standing on. In other words, at eight or nine feet up the trunk the circumference was about fourteen feet or so. It was a magnificent sight and one that I would never have seen in the summer. The woods were also wonderfully quiet. Activity in the area was minimal and the snow absorbed much of the sound that was around. Several times I simply stopped where I was and sat down to listen to the quiet. After an hour or so out in the woods, I stepped down off the snow and onto the driveway with a jolt. It was as if I had been walking around on one giant mattress and then landed on a hardwood floor. I hadn’t collected any materials for furniture, but the trip had been well worth it. I hope to get another such one in again soon.
My grandfather used to tell me of his youth when, rather than plow the roads, they rolled them with logs pulled by teams of horses, so that they were smooth enough to sleigh on. Apparently the town of Cohasset is renewing that old tradition, as they seem dedicated to making sure no ones’ runners are damaged by the salt or pavement.

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It is hard not to wonder what my Grandfather would have made of this year’s snow. He always contended that there was much more snow in his youth. But I think this year’s totals might even have matched his memory.

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