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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.

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