Blog — Issue Nine RSS





Both Practical and Personal

A genuine love of wood needs to be both practical and personal. It is necessary for the studio because of the kind of paint used to create the icons. Like so much of what is done here, the paint used is locally produced and looks to fulfill the land rather than extract from it. It is called egg tempera, a combination of pigments made from the rocks and plants around the studio and egg yolk from our little flock of chickens. When properly prepared and applied, it is a durable paint that does not yellow and gives luminosity to the color. However, once cured, it dries to an inflexible state that would quickly crack and flake off a flexible surface,...

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Rightly Considered a Folk Tool

The shaving horse remained prevalent throughout the Western world, especially in rural contexts, well into the 20th century. This is not to say it was never used in industrial production, however. It is, for example, depicted amongst coopers’ tools in Diderot and d’Alembert’s mid-late 18th-century scientific publication, Encyclopédie, which was “the cornerstone of the Enlightenment, representing the most important collection of scientific and technological knowledge at the time.” Even though the shaving horse had a place in early industrialism, it could rightly be considered a folk tool because it did not originate from the academic or economic elite. It’s always been the workholding technology of the commoner. Peter Follansbee has put it, “Shaving horses are a folk tool, like a...

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A Treasure Trove of Information

The key is found in linking growth curves together, using old living trees to make connections to sawn lumber, timbers in buildings, and old furniture. Going back to our example of that 200-year-old pine: Imagine that there is a 150-year-old house nearby, built of timbers cut onsite. Many of those timbers came from trees that were likely far older than our standing grandfather pine, with which they share 50 years of overlap in their growth curves. Once that overlap is confirmed, it becomes possible to count backwards in the rings of the old house timbers and create an extended chronology. Utilizing local structures and archaeological finds in this way, a regional “master chronology” can be built that extends many centuries...

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Miles of Pine to Plane

The panel raiser was the first plane of Chelor’s that I chose to copy, and it departs the least from the English tradition. Still, there are two differences worth noting. First, English panel raisers nearly always have adjustable, rather than fixed, depth stops and fences.  The early American planes, on the other hand, sacrifice adjustability in favor of simplicity and ease of use. Remember, we have miles of pine to plane! A more subtle difference is the design of the escapement. Normally, the abutments – the surfaces that the wedge bears against – are a consistent width until the bottom half inch, where they taper into the side of the plane. But on the Chelor/Nicholson panel raisers, the left abutment...

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A Good Deal Even Back Then

The Sussex chair, named after a country chair found in its namesake county in the south of England, was presumed to have been refined in 1860 by William Morris. It was put into production in 1870, leading to a full collection of Sussex seating including children’s chairs, corner chairs, and settees. These were crafted up until the Second World War and proved to be a very successful range for Morris & Co. As it happens, a 1912 catalog featured a Sussex armchair much like the piece I have made which was priced for the equivalent of 49 pence – this was considered a good deal even back then! The concept of the BBC show was to give modern craftspeople the...

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It Holds a Remade World

Traditional icons are the culmination of many different arts. The hands in the studio are engaged as woodworkers, gilders, painters, and finishers, and our eyes see as historians, theologians, and artists. The interplay of these disciplines means that it is the joy of the studio to work with many different people in our tasks (for instance, the list of people I need to call back as I write this includes a sawyer, a priest, and a professor). It also means that what’s done here can offer a unique perspective on the purpose and consideration of the materials and methods it employs. The making of each icon begins with wood. A panel is its foundation, and like any home, the icon...

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In Hemmings' Young Hands

John Hemmings’ introduction to the properties of wood and the tools used in its exploitation came in his early teens as an out-carpenter on Jefferson’s Albemarle County estate, Monticello. Carrying axes, hatchets, froes, and mauls, teams of young, able-bodied men would trek into the old-growth forest at the edge of the Virginia wilderness to harvest trees for sustaining the body of Jefferson’s nearly 5,600-acre plantation estate. Near the age of 14, Hemmings was considered big enough to handle the heavy and unforgiving tools necessary to render raw trees into a usable commodity. For the last several years during his childhood, he had helped the older field hands with the lighter work of collecting the harvest and planting, but this year would...

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The Memories of Centuries Ago

Solar activity does more than steer climate cycles on earth – it alters the very make-up of the atmosphere. Solar storms, and the resulting cosmic radiation that strikes our planet, changes the ratio of carbon isotopes in the atmosphere. These specific isotopes are absorbed and locked away within the growth ring formed the year that a major storm took place. These carbon “markers” exist in other organic materials as well, and early artifacts – basketry, papyrus – that demonstrate the presence of these isotopes can now be dated precisely, all because of the exacting timescale laid down in ancient tree rings. Trees are the scribes of nature, “remembering” events in the physical sense: A tree takes again the effect of...

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I Make it Up as I Go Along

“I am not very good at visualizing the final outcome of my projects. Unless taking the time to make a detailed prototype is justifiable (almost never in my case), I often employ what programmers and software designers have come to call “iterative design” – a cyclical method of tweaking and refining the product as the user provides feedback. This is merely a fancy-pants way of saying that I make it up as I go along. So, seeing the bench at its final height, I decided to remove some of the bulk in the middle. I laid out a relief where my legs will be, and sawed several relief cuts, then chopped out the waste with a chisel. The top and...

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Quite a Workout!

“I worked outside in the open air under the cover of a woodworking shed. The wood I was given was a trunk of greenwood, freshly cut from a tree. Unseasoned wood like this has a naturally high moisture content. I had no choice of wood during the television program, but usually when choosing the best wood for splitting you need to take great care to pick a vertically grown tree with no twists or knots along its surface. This ensures that once the wood is split it will be far less likely to bend or crack. It’s also important to make sure you have more wood than you might need. This ensures you have “spare parts” in the event of...

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