Design Under Duress


Of course, another great project and observations by Christopher Schwarz. And if anyone wants to get me his “new” old book for Christmas, I am not opposed.

Originally posted on Lost Art Press:


Building a project in front of an audience is one thing. Designing it and building it on the fly is enough to drive me to drink.

Earlier this year I did a two-day seminar for the Alabama Woodworkers Guild where I designed and built a six-board chest. While I usually do a lot work beforehand for classes, I was in the final stages of editing “Campaign Furniture” and was a bit task-saturated. Here was my prep work for that class: I threw some boards and tools into my truck and drove south.

Luckily, I’ve built a lot of six-board chests, and the resulting piece turned out well. In fact, I like this particular chest so much that I’m using it in “Furniture of Necessity.” As a result, I had to create a SketchUp drawing and cutting list after building the project.

As I was drawing the chest yesterday, I was…

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Caravans in the Art World

I have started a separate Blog Page to house the caravan, vardo, Rom, Gypsy, Traveller, and nomad art from my collections.  Any contribution links are welcome as are comments.

kylixdonkeyWe all had to start somewhere.

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Marketing to the Caravan Craze: Composting Toilet


Earth ClosetHumanure is not as new of an idea as we are often led to believe.  With the genuine Moules, there are no, bad smells, typhoid OR diphtheria!  That’s quite a bonus.  Well, if it’s good enough for Windsor Castle and Sandringham then it’s good enough for me!

What I find truly fascinating is that we can’t discuss this subject openly.  Certainly wouldn’t have been when and where I grew up.  A close reading of the above handbill does not actually reveal what it is we are talking about here.  Everyone does it, so everyone can figure it out.  Imagine reading something like this as a non-native English speaker.  The beat-around-the-bush lingo would be baffling.  No picture, no real description, just talking about that which cannot be named in polite company; ewww.

If somehow you’re still not sure what we’re talking about here, this should help:

Henry_Moule's_earth_closet,_improved_version_c1875Again… eww.

But seriously, this sanitation unit was probably a huge lifesaver.  Moule began developing the dry-earth system of sanitation after the summer of the “GREAT STINK” in London in 1858.  Oddly enough, a culprit of this mass contamination was the introduction of the flush toilet shortly before.  Overwhelming the ancient sewer systems of London and the surrounding areas.

Adding more water was not the solution to the problem so by 1860 Moule patented what became a widely accepted way to fight disease and water contamination.  Due to it’s efficiency and ease of use the new “Earth Closets” were adopted by hospitals, the British military,  affluent households (including the British monarchy) and throughout British India (a.k.a. the Raj).

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Early Worker Vans; Predecessor to the Caravan

WorkVanEarly work vans were designed to house manual laborers when on the job.  Great for highway and railroad crews.  These caravans were noted for poor ventilation and their spartan interior.  Three to six workmen were often housed in these wagons.

FowlerAll the necessities for living with none of the comforts of home.  Cheaper than regular housing and mobile too.  One can see how this evolved into the later caravan.  These were expensive and not as well thought-out as later ‘vans.

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Happiness in Simplicity


At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the young artist Frances Jennings became a semi-invalid and was advised by her doctor to spend as much time as she could in the open air.  Being a Victorian lady at loose ends, the obvious choice was to take to the open road.  Her simple rig and a good spirit served her well.  As described by J. Harris Stone:

She is extremely delicate, partially paralysed, and her doctor told her that she should practically live in the open air. Being of an active and practical mind she set to work to see how she could, within her means, carry out the drastic requirements of her medical adviser.  She joined the Caravan Club, and all the assistance, in the way of pitches and introductions, was of course afforded her. Her desire was to take to the road and live altogether in the open air in rural parts of the country. Her cart—it can scarcely be called a caravan—she describes as “strange and happy-looking.”  It is four-wheeled, rather like a trolley, and painted bright blue, with a yellow oilskin hood—something like a brewer’s dray in shape.

caravanningcampi00stonrich_0087 - Version 2

Beauty in a caravan is in the eye of the beholder.

“I carry,” she tells me in one of her letters from a pitch in a most out-of-the-way spot in rural Gloucestershire, ”a hamper of food, and one of soap and brushes and tools, etc., and a box of books, a small faggot of wood for emergencies and a gallon can of water.  I have a covering of sheepskins with the wool on them, and a sack of oats, bran, chaff, hay, or something to feed my little ass upon.  Also I keep in a sack the donkey’s brush and comb and chain, etc., and the harness when not in use.  I do not generally travel after dark, but if overtaken by dusk I hang out my candle lantern.”


Cooking over a campfire with the ubiquitous fire hook.

“…I build immense fires. That constitutes a great happiness to me. I have a kettle-hook and hanging pot, and I buy food in the villages.  At the farms I find a plentiful supply of milk, fruit, honey, nuts and fresh vegetables. I build the fire just by the cart, with the donkey near at hand.”

Described in her first year on the road, she “sleeps in the covered cart, and she carries a few straight rods with her to drive into the ground on her pitch, on which she hangs squares of sacking across as a screen to keep off the gaze of curious watchers when she wants to sit by the fire ” and dream, and not be the object of their gaze.”

In her own Walden experience, things were not always easy or perfect.  “I find great excitement, in the winter, in hearing the storms raving around me in the black of night… I feel my present outfit and way of getting along is very far short of perfection!… at present it is rather by the skin of my teeth that I manage to exist amid the elements of wind and rain and cold and space.”

campfireandpipeSpeaking of her time with the more traditional travellers, she says: “They have spoken like poets, worn silver rings on their copper hands and rosy beads around their necks; and their babies have round little twigs of hazel-nuts in their red hands.  And perhaps the roof of their cart has been on the sea—the sail of a ship.”

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Vardo Plans: Reading Caravan

Many considerations concerning floor plans and general layout have come my way over the years.  I am compiling as many as possible to post here.  To start things off, here is the iconic Reading Waggon by Dunton’s (note: two “g’s” in the older British spelling).

ReadingExtThis design is truly the classic.  When one sees this, it cries of the open road and Gypsy Wagons.  It is Henry David Thoreau’s Walden cabin on wheels.  The wide rear axle and narrow front carriage was the best of compromise for agility, weight, and worthiness on and off road.  This design is worth a potential builder scrutinizing in detail for it’s perfection of design.  A mollycroft roof, high clearance, well-proportioned windows, and solid design make this ideal for the rolling home.

DSC_0197On the downside, kite walls (out-sloping) add some difficulty when working on interior shelves and cabinets.  Also, as noted for over a hundred years, the mollycroft can weaken the roof and ultimately increase the chance of leaks.  A small price to pay maybe but something to keep in consideration.

ReadingFloorThe classic caravan at this period included a full chest of drawers and a fairly large stove, limiting seating to a largish space on the stove side and a small dressing seat next to the dresser.  Although we read of dozens of children being born and raise in this design, the real layout seems to be based on the couple.  Kids will make due.

All images above are taken from The English Gypsy Caravan, currently out of print.

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Flat & Level & Square


A simple tool we take for granted. I too, seem to use one in virtually every project.

Originally posted on heavydiy:


While I’m reluctant to disagree with the amazing Uma Thurman, getting anything from a table to a picture frame or even a ginormous BBQ grill you put together to sit flat and square takes some attention to detail followed by checking then rechecking your work, especially when welding as heat distortion is a big factor (and pain in the butt). So how do we make sure our stuff is square and our right angles are truly 90 degrees? Are there tricks that can help square large projects? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions.

I started off writing up tutorials on different type of squares and similar tools and I made a diagram and a bunch of other stuff then I realized that a video would probably be way more helpful for most people, including myself. So, I went on a YouTube information gathering mission and in the process I…

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Screwbrake Mechanism



In response to the inquiry about the little wheel on all the old wagons.  They also had a drag brake to connect when going up hill to prevent back sliding.  The precursor to the auto handbrake.

Here’s a guide to the basic parts of the Reading wagon.  Borrowed from The English Gypsy Caravan.  Sadly, long out of print.


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Honest Trade


Everyone should learn a manual trade: It’s never too late to become an honest person.”  Edward Abbey


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In an effort to make my mark, I’m working on a splash page image, a logo, and a flag.  Something catchy and symbolic, but not already taken. Simple, smart, and understandable.  This one about sums it up but I  think it may already be in use. compasssquarelevelMy personal image for the web page needs to be something as iconic as this pre-war “selfie” by J. Harris Stone.  A travelling man like myself.

CaravanningEx01Also, in the spirit of the early caravanners of a century ago, I am attempting to create a logo, without restricted use, for kindred spirits to fly from their rigs when on the road.  This idea struck me several years ago when seeing one of the simple logos from the Society of Primitive Technology on a car in the parking lot of a bookstore far from home.

rabbitstickI knew, when I saw it, there was likely a kindred spirit nearby.  Probably someone I know or have very few degrees of separations from.  In other words, a person I could probably trust in a pinch.wintercountThis was reinforced on me this year while I was driving a thousand miles from home, someone recognized my rig and had his young son hold up an image he knew I would recognize.  How cool is that?  Icons work to let us know, in this overpopulated yet disjointed world community, who belongs to our tribe.  Just as gang members have signs, symbols, and colors, so do law enforcement, military, and fraternal organizations.  I’m not saying this is necessarily good, just that it is.

We are tribal at heart for good or ill.  I want to put it to work for good.

CoverontheroadThis photo dates back to a time prior to the completion of my caravan but far enough along to travel across the country.  Maybe not iconic, but a document in the life-history of my home.

As there are more and more of us in our circle of fellow travellers, sometimes we are readily recognized.

CoverWintercountVSometimes we are not.  Maybe we need a flag of our own to fly when we’re lost on the road and maybe not so recognizable.  Something like the pennon of the Caravan Club in Europe before the Great War.

CCVI welcome designs from fellow travellers but I hope to create something no matter what.  Or maybe it’s just the Saturday evening cocktail talking.

Baumeister_-_Holzschnitt_von_Jost_Amman_-_1536.svgAfter this ramble, it’s clearly time to get back to work on the bigger problems; seeking knowledge and trying to make my little world a better place.

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