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Two beautiful days on the farm

November 18, 2012

I know it’s been a long time since I wrote anything for the blog, but it seems harder and harder to reconcile writing about using hand tools, working in the woods, and making things by hand with my general dislike of computers. Every time I drive down to the farm I imagine what I might write about and even begin a monologue in my head, but by the time I get back, writing is the last thing I want to do. That said, the last two times down I did have some observations.
A week ago, Veterans Day Monday, I drove down and saw something I’d never seen before. On the stretch of Jerusalem road that overlooks the ocean, there is a beach house just before one turns (in typical New England fashion, one turns right from Jerusalem road onto Jerusalem road and the road one had been on becomes Atlantic avenue) away from the ocean and up to the farm. I saw a bit of beach with a 20 to 30 foot fishing vessel resting high and dry on the pebbles (it is not a sandy beach). At lunch with my Aunt Jean I learned that the boat had been blown off its moorings during Hurricane Sandy and drifted from Gloucester beaching itself (more or less unharmed) in Cohasset, some 30 miles away. It’s difficult to see in the little snap shot I took, but you can see it and the backhoe that the owner has hired to try to dig a trench to allow water to get underneath, and float it away.

Boat on the beach

It must have worked somehow, because it was not there yesterday. And yesterday, I was driving back at high tide, with the brisk north wind, the waves were breaking so high in the beach I am not sure they would have needed the backhoe. It’s been a while since I’ve seen breakers like those. But I suppose it is better to get the boat off the beach under more controlled conditions.
Both days the weather was beautiful, but contrasted in temperature. Veterans Day was warm enough to wear a tee shirt. My cousin was down as well, and we cleared a few of the many post-Sandy trees that had fallen across trails. We also shored a couple small bridges that had partially collapsed not due to storm but to time. It is always great fun to work with my cousin and it is a shame that our schedules do not coincide more often. The weather since Monday has been the sort during which one would not find it surprising if it began to snow. It’s been raw and cold enough for sleet if not actual, with that slate gray sky, which makes one wonder if one has enough firewood split. The sun came out this weekend, but the temps were only in the forties and fifties. I was dressed in several layers anticipating a chilly day in the ox barn, but the ox barn is on the sunny side of the barnyard, and working on this and that in the sunshine, it was not long before I had stripped down to a tee shirt again. The difference was that whenever I left my sunny work area I had to put on another shirt or feel the chill immediately. I am working on small items (spoons, coaster, etc.) for the Hollyday Fair in early December and finishing up an oak bench that I recently put together. Speaking of recent projects, I have been using my lathe at work. I know it’s electric, and there is nothing I’d rather have than a human powered lathe, but it’s all I’ve got. I was visiting another cousin last month when she showed me some large wooden balls that her boyfriend had brought back from Europe. They were approximately five inches in diameter, and she or he asked whether I knew how they were made. They were most captivating. They had a wonderful weight to them and it was impossible not to spin them in one’s hands. I knew they had to have been made with a lathe, but exactly what the steps would be was a mystery to me. So I decided to give it a try. I began with a walnut log about 14 inches long. I trued it up and measured its diameter (about 5inches). I then drew a circle with the same diameter on a piece of stiff paper and cut out inside arcs to use as a template and began cutting away at the blank so that I had a circle of the same size, at least along one axis (perpendicular to the log). The final steps are the real trick. Normally a lathe is attached to the wood one is turning by two spikes (or centers) one drives the wood (the live center) and one the simply supports the wood and spins along (the dead center). These leave holes in the wood and there were no holes in the balls I had been shown. But my buddy Thomas at work confirmed what I had suspected, there is a special sort of center for doing exactly this sort of work called a cup center. As the name implies, a cup center is cup shaped and it holds the work by friction but does not leave a hole in the work. After making the piece as spherical as possible on the first axis, I took the work off the lathe, cut the excess from the ends, used the belt sander to smooth the ends round, and put it back on the lathe between the cup centers. By turning and sanding and frequently changing the axis, I was able to come up with a pretty neat replica of the originals. It is also a great deal of fun (as is most turning) and the only barrier to making more is that I do not have many logs of sufficient diameter (not to small not to large). I have made a couple smaller cedar balls and I will try to make more for the sale in December, but I’m keeping the big one.

Walnut ball

I recently received an email from a rustic furniture company in Michigan. They asked whether I’d post a link to their website if they posted a link to my. Clearly we work on very different scales, but what the heck so on my links page you will now find a link to their page.
Next week is Thanksgiving week. I will probably be down on Saturday, though typically it is extremely quiet, my daughter will home from her first semester at college and that is one of the things she’d like to do. So here’s hoping the fine fall weather continues and that all of you have happy, healthy, and joyous Thanksgivings.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert permalink
    November 18, 2012 1:05 pm

    Enjoyed it as always, Malcolm.

    Regarding human-powered lathes: I have the frame and poppets for a springpole lathe that I built once. I used it in my then-shop in the basement, and didn’t bother with a springpole — just ran a bungee cord between a couple of hooks in the ceiling and ran the cord down from that; worked fine.

    It ain’t beautiful, made from dimensional lumber, but it is functional, and if it would amuse you to play with it, you’re welcome to it, it’s just taking up space in my basement now. Still mean to give you that hand-cranked forge blower I’ll never get around to using.

    Also, I’ve been messing around with the photographic version of hand-tool woodworking: 4×5 view cameras and self-developed black and white film. (Haven’t quite got around to trying tintypes or mixing my own emulsions, but that may yet happen.) Might be fun to try taking some shots of your work with the big rig sometime, let me know if you’re interested.

    • November 19, 2012 7:03 pm

      Thanks for reading. I appreciate the offer, but i don’t have much room either. The farm actually has a couple lathes. One is a monstrous old beast that hasn’t been run in decades, but would be awesome to get going. The other is WWII salvage.
      That is very cool about the photography. I’d be happy to let you take some pictures. Let me know.

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