With Peter Rae and Shawn Rae; For Donna Rae
They say you can tell how straight the grain of a tree runs by looking at the bark. I may not have read all the clues the bark had to tell. David and I harvested a massive hickory tree from Evan Kohn’s home in Western Connecticut. A couple of hours in, we had felled the tree, bucked it into logs and got a start on hewing the faces. I honed the broad ax, and David honed his skill at squaring up faces. It seemed like we were making a ton of progress on a set of skis. When David and Evan drove wedges into the logs, the log split, but split in a corkscrew fashion. We tried a couple of techniques but couldn’t get a split to run anything remotely close to straight. With sore arms, and tools spread throughout the snow we were a little discouraged. Without giving up on our plans to make cross country skis, I wanted to put some of the wood to use on a project did not not require splitting thin boards.
Since watching Peter Follansbee on the Woodworking shop – my mother and I have been messing around with spoon carving. While I put what I considered a sufficient amount of detail and care into my spoon projects – Donna has taken things to another stratosphere of craftsmanship. The trees are speaking to her – bends and limbs are looking like untapped potential. To harvest potential from fallen branch to soup scooper – one needs careful hands, a couple of band aids, a free afternoon and a place to work. Donna had the first three – I was tasked the last.
Donna carved this spoon with a a hook knife and sloyd – the next step in realizing the forest’s potential is getting from log to blank. This is where the shave horse comes in, it gives her a place for her axe work as well as using green woodworking tools to rough cut her designs.
A shave-horse is an ingenious thing – something I would have in my shop and home if both my space and my living companion allowed. Your legs push against the wooden frame which grabs the object that your are working. The harder you pull a draw-knife or spoke-shave across the piece the hard your legs grip it to the bench. You can quickly release the work, to move along in a fast yet idyllic way. This is one of those ideas which was brilliant a millennium or so ago, and is still brilliant today. The bench we elected to make is a classic English design, although the Germans and other have their own variations. We worked off the plans by lee valley – although we both took more inspiration from Roy Underhill’s more ad hoc method than Lee Valley’s measured approach.
We started with a block of hickory 5 inches thick and almost five feet long. I used an adze and ax to bring the propeller shape down some of the way and cleaned it with a power planer. Needless to say – I have all the kindling I need for years. The log was stuffed in the back of a station wagon and made its second interstate journey en route to Canada. I sent this photo to my father to prep him for the fact that I was indeed showing up with 50 pounds of unseasoned lumber.
The tripod design made it pretty simple to lie flat against the ground. The legs were froed from another piece of the hickory – I planed a taper into them for both style as well as function. We drilled holes through the log. The legs splaying out increasing the stability of the piece. The legs were hammered through the holes. As the hickory continues to dry, the base may sit end up resting deeper on the tapered legs.
The frame is hard maple – we reinforced some cracks with dowel. The body of the frame is assembled with some pretty hefty mortises. The wedge piece in which the work is placed is built on a track allowing it to slide so pieces of different widths can be placed underneath the jaws of the clamps. The frame is attached to the base with huge lag bolts – although I am sure dowel or such would work just as well.
All thing said and done – I am happy with how this turned out. I am sure Donna is happy the project is done both to expand her carving horizons and so I stop tracking wood shavings through out her house. It’s nice to fit a project in between balancing nephews coming and going. Who knows what Donna’s Diner is going to serve up next.