Building Boxes at Haystack

Saturday’s ‘Build a Box’ workshop at Haystack was fun. If you haven’t been there, the campus is gorgeous in its tucked-away water-front location. The story goes that, back in the 60s, they chose this location based on its remoteness and solitude. They wanted to find a place where no highway would ever be built. I would say this little island off the coast of Maine was the perfect choice. Off the beaten path is an understatement.


I had a great variety of students: male and female, young and old. There were 10 students, most of whom had little no experience using hand tools. We started the day off discussing proportional design with dividers and then decided on dimensions for the boxes before breaking down the boards to length in teams. While everyone took turns sawing, I set up the school’s handplanes putting a slight camber on the irons.

 It was great to be able to hand each student a properly set up handplane from the first moment. With only minor instruction, everyone was making beautiful wispy shavings in the first few minutes. It wasn’t long before folks encountered the frustration of reversing grain and tear out. I coached each student through those tricky spots. This kind of experience always makes a big impression on people. To experience first-hand how the iron’s edge and the wood interact is worth more than reading all the books in the world.


After lunch, we moved to cutting the joinery. I demonstrated how to layout the rabbets on the front and back together so that they perfectly match. We gauged the rabbets’ depth, scribed the shoulders with a knife, used a chisel to create a V-groove for the saw to rest in, and sawed the shoulder to the gauge lines. To remove the waste, I taught them how to split it off with the chisel and pare to the line. They were pretty impressed with how easy that was!


By the end of this crash-course day most everyone had their boxes assembled and some had their bottoms installed. Although we didn’t complete the boxes, I accomplished my goal of introducing everyone to hand tools by diving right in. Considering the limited time, I was proud of everyone. It was amazing to see piles of shavings at everyone’s feet.


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