Traveller Life

Every traveler has a campfire has the center of daily life. The hearth has been our home for 1.5 – 2 million years now. No wonder it fascinates us and brings so much comfort.

Nomads in a stationary culture are often tolerated at best and left only marginal space to congregate. This will probably never change.

These high-end vardos with fancy covers are probably “gentlemen travelers,” the antecedents to modern RVers.

Yes, I know that Traveller has two Ls in our title but since we’re looking at Britain and the Continent that’s how we’re spelling it.

Everyone Should Cultivate Manual Training

Does this mean we should neglect our intellect? Absolutely not.

In fact, the opposite. We should strive to cultivate both mind and body to become the most perfect specimen we can become, daily.

I came across this passage while reading a bit this morning from Amateur Joinery in the Home (1916) by George and Berthold Audsley and thought it would be worthwhile to share.

There is a lot of good advice here but the above sentences stuck with me while taking the morning walk. “One never knows when life or limb may depend on the expert use of the hand and ordinary tools.” This could be applied to so many facets of an interesting life and is the basis of human survival that has put us where we are for a million years.

I have been using the down time afforded us by the events of 2020 to catch up on an ever-growing list of books and articles I have been amassing for decades. When I was working in archaeology full-time, the hundreds of pages of reading most weeks necessary just to keep current pushed many other interests into side avenues. I hope you all are using your time in a way that works well for you. In the mean time, this book is available for anyone with an interest in tools and working with their hands. It may even inspire new projects.

Click here to download a pdf file of the book. Amateur Joinery in the Home.

Interview Time

Well this is exciting. I got interviewed at winter count near Florence, Arizona back in February.

It’s heavily edited from a much longer discussion but I don’t think I sound too stupid here talking about the Vardo.  The interview is very close-up and tight but you can get a feel for the interior layout. There is a lot of good stuff on the Cheap RV Living website and I’ve been a reader for a very long time.  Check it out.


https://youtu.be/ktkXcXmR96Q

A Gathering Saw

Here’s another small project happening amidst all the “real work” that needs to get done during this quarantine.

24 inch frame saw made from Missouri grown walnut. The “hanged man” style flapper is a scrap of mahogany from some repurposed shelves. The sheath here is pine.

I seem to sell or occasionally give away the saws I make. I needed a new one. The last one went into the Winter Count raffle as the prizes were looking a little scant this year.

I went into the workshop without much of a specific plan but came out with this little gem. Just a matter of removing the unnecessary bits really.

Finally, the pin sheath is stained and a canvas quiver is made to cover the saw when broken down for travel. This one is from old,, heavyweight canvas salvaged from a truck tarp. It will all fit into a neat 24 inch bundle.

I want to keep this one but after inquiries rolling in, it may go into the shop (or another just like it).

Be Safe!

For your enjoyment: a Carpenter from 1589, Mendel Manuscript.

Shaving Horses and Portable Woodworking

For bow makers and other wood crafters…A shaving horse is an invaluable tool if you create or work with odd-shaped objects that are otherwise difficult to clamp or need to constantly move around.

This simple horse was created in a morning from a large oak branch blown down in a storm and a couple spars from recent clearing.

I don’t know how I would get half my projects done without one.  A horse, in combination with a small bench or two of the same height can act as a complete workshop that is reasonably portable and adaptable.  Carpenters, furniture makers, coopers, shoemakers, jewelers, and carvers all have their specific designs and no one type will be the best at everything.  Some need to be very adjustable, while others have a very fixed purpose.  With a little patience, planning, and luck a great horse can be built for cheap or free with just a very few tools.

coopers-horse-1

A Cooper’s Horse.

I’ve collected few images of shaving horse (a.k.a. work horses) images and show some I created over the years.  If you are looking for inspiration or information on designing one for yourself, these should give an adequate starting point.  I wish I had photos of my very first horse but unfortunately, it existed at a time when I seem to have taken very few photos of my own projects and the internet wasn’t much of a place for sharing this sort of thing.

bench

Click the image to learn what this peasant is making.

In the old days of pre-internet (some of you may recall this with me) there was very little information floating around about these simple but nifty devices.  People like Roy Underhill (The Woodwright’s Shop) and Drew Langsner (Country Woodcraft) had them.  I recall seeing them rotting in yards in the Ozarks or slowly decaying in the back of family barns as a kid. While researching them later, the one consistency I discovered was the complete lack of consistency on their size, shape, height, length, or actual use.  Obviously, every bodger, tinker, and shingle maker had his own ideas and was probably limited by material availability. This ancient tool is as unique as each builder.

goodman-1966-roman-horse-rheims

“Goodman identifies the (above) relief as a cobbler making a wooden last sitting astride a small bench (‘horse’). The workpiece is held firmly on a sort of anvil by means of a strap passing down through the bench top, and held taut with his left foot. (Photo: Goodman 1964, p. 184, Museo di Civilta Romana, E.U.R., Rome. Reproduced without permission citing fair use).”

While my first horse was designed primarily around dimensional lumber found in my shop an it’s ability to fit cross-ways in a truck bed (F-150) with ease, it was perfectly functional for what I needed; primarily for shaping bows but also for carving things like spear throwers and tool handles.  Experience and use taught me the good and bad points about this model and the result has been these  better and later designs…

0106This was a good horse designed for the bowyer. Hickory arm and head, poplar cross-stretchers and a long, adjustable-tilt table to accommodate a wide variety of bow stave thicknesses.

0699Another of similar design. The base is the same but is has a square head and wider treadle to use easily with either or both feet.

0658A horse in use.  This is how they are best seen.  I actually stopped tillering for a moment to take an “action” photo in the old shop.

0321Here is another action shot fixing the tiller on someone’s bow at Winter Count several years ago. I wouldn’t normally have a giant, heavy stave leaning on the horse but the photographer insisted on it for some reason. I was just hoping it wouldn’t bean me with a very sharp draw-knife in my hand (hence my switch to the rasp for the photo).

0053

This is not my herd but that of a fellow bowyer.

Here are a few others I encountered at a bow making class in the Midwest several years ago. I liked the simplicity of these made for teaching new bowyers at the Bois d’Arc Rendezvous hosted by FirstEarth. You could make one of these with nothing but a few well-chosen scraps and a few bolts.

And my personal favorite…

Design was kept as short as possible for transport. The cross bolt where the arm hinges is a salvaged bolt from an old truck spare tire holder.

This design was kept as short as possible for transport while still being practical. The cross bolt where the arm hinges is a salvaged from an old truck spare tire holder.

Higher, more ergonomic table.

A higher, more ergonomic table and a large treadle area make this one more practical for me.

Finally, the horse above has been my more-or-less permanent workstation for the last few years and has traveled many miles around the western U.S.  Used in conjunction with a small saw bench (built Winter 2015), I have a very complete work setup that packs into the bed of the tiny Toyota pick-up.

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Click the image for more information about this project.

With all the gentrification of woodworking that has grown out of some fine blogs and books of the past few years I think it’s important to remember the roots.

Bench hook and tools. The holdfasts store in the legs so that they are always handy.

Not everyone needs to own every tool, jig, or gizmo… nor should we want to.

Few amateurs can have an enormous, dedicated work space surrounding a one-ton French-style Roubo split-top workbench, nor will he need one.  Once you figure out what you want to create, then the tools can follow as needed.  Sometimes, the big projects can be goals for the future.

The sawbench in operation with a few years, many projects, and a lot of miles on it.

If you are in need of a sturdy place to work, a portable setup that includes a saw bench and a shave horse will really improve your life.

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Winter Count is Coming

I’m happy to say that I will be heading to the annual primitive skills gathering known as Winter Count down in the Sonoran Desert. Thankfully, it has moved to a more remote location further into the desert and far away from the Phoenix sprawl.


I will be teaching a course that I have been doing for some time now; Constructing the Ancient Frame Saw. I say “ancient” because this style saw goes back to the very beginning of metal working. It is a way to create an extreme amount of tension, and thereby stiffness, on a very small piece of metal; saving on a very precious resource.

Even though this, in essence, can be thought of as a one-off craft project. I hope that people will take time to learn the skills and take away more knowledge than a simple material good.


I think it might be easy, at first glance, to think of a project like this as a cheap way to get something that you might not be able to afford otherwise; and that is fine. However, learning basic skills like layout, simple joinery, and the use of hand tools are transferable skills that can be used for a myriad of other projects; from constructing a spear-thrower to timber frame building.

There is even plenty of opportunity to add one’s own style and artistic flare to the project.

Learning to operate even a few simple hand tools, edges and wedges in this case, connect your brain to your body in a way that pushing buttons and looking at screens could never do.

Working directly with a raw material like wood, with its own unique properties, connects us to a deeper understanding of the wider world.

Maybe I’ll see you there someday.

Another Bucksaw on the Loose

I am stunned to hear from several recent misguided enthusiasts to the gentle art of wilderness skills that their new hobby costs them so much money… I guess even our low-tech approach to life can be marketed and sold to the right customer with our ingrained need for newer, quicker, and “approved” gear. Let’s hope this ailment isn’t catching.

Making something for one’s self is, in itself, an act of rebellion in these troubled times so I thought I would share what I’ve been up to in the idle hours these past few days.

After someone sweet-talked me out of my last (and personal) bucksaw I was in need of a replacement. I lucked upon some beautiful walnut last year and set some aside to make a few saws. Straight-grained, strong, and beautiful, this 5/4 sawn chunk was ripe for carving into something nice. I spent far too much time in finish and detail on this one but a beautiful tool is much nicer to use than an ugly one and curves appeal more than straight lines to this gentleman.

There isn’t much need for a lengthy instructable for this design but notice that the straight grain was respected in all dimensions and runs the length of each arm. As for hardware, it was my intention to inset square nuts into the handles and connect the blade with round-head machine screws. However, looking through my hardware on hand, that would have required a trip to a store, so for now, we use carriage bolts and wing nuts.

The devil is truly in the details and it is a joy to carve such fine wood with sharp tools. The entirety is polished with Lundmark carnauba wax as it brings out the color and grain while providing excellent protection against water.

Prepping Bow Staves

After you have carefully selected the tree, cut it down, and (hopefully) had time to age the wood it is time to prep the bow staves. 

Prepping bow staves is a fair amount of work but made easier with the right tools and a little experience.  The examples below aged for nearly seven years in a dark, dry barn.  These are nearly all hickory and therefore, are generally easy to split if the grain is respected.  I use an old froe, mallet, and hammer for most of my splitting and only resort to steel wedges or power tools in rare, generally green cases.  As most of the staves that I cut personally are 6’6″ – 7′ long, this is the time when they are sawed to a rough length; generally 65 – 70″.  They are left long initially to account for any splitting of the ends that occurs during the drying process that will interfere with the finished bow.

Splitting hickory.

These staves were massive and can generally be made into two or three bows in the end;  two from the outer portion and one from the inner.  This isn’t always true for some older hickories as the heartwood “sets” and becomes dark and brittle.  Taken in a deep valley, this tree was large enough and fast growing so doesn’t seem to be a problem.  It is difficult to tell from the photo above but this is an extremely large piece of wood.  It was weighed a few days after felling at 79.5 lbs.  It was weighed again, just prior to splitting, almost seven years later at 48 lbs.  That is nearly 30 lbs (5 gallons) of water that evaporated.

A clean break with the froe.

The above photo shows the froe in use, prying the two halves apart without much effort.  Once started with a mallet in the end, it is just a matter of prying and moving down the staff.

I was doing these rather quickly and didn’t even move to my work shed for the process as they would be loaded up almost immediately.

The staves can now be safely de-barked and are generally ready to be roughed out, a relatively easy task on hickory, but not so with Osage orange (photo below).  Osage needs to be shaved down to a single layer within the wood.  In this case about a half inch inside the bark to find a suitable growth ring.

Osage orange, showing the contrast between the new and old growth.

One of the troubles with Osage orange wood is the transitional new growth on the outer (back) of the stave, visible as the white rings.  This wood is not useful for bow making and needs to be cleanly removed down to a single growth ring.  In the case above, several old growth rings will be removed as well as they are inconsistent and pinch out on the right side of this stave.  It is generally wise to choose one of the thicker rings to serve as the back as it is under a lot of tension during the draw.

New bow blanks stand next to a full-size stave as they are roughed out.

This is about half the useful bow staves made in a single run with a “whole” stave on the right to show how they begin.  This one weighed about 80 lbs green but only about 50 lbs dry.

On to layout and the next steps.

Making a Self-Bow

A pictorial step-by-step of the bow-making process. 

This quick look isn’t intended to replace the one-on-one learning of a real teacher or to cover all aspects of the art that come from years of practice.  Expect both success and failure and don’t let either one dominate your learning.  Education is a process, not an instance.

splitting stave

Felled stave that has aged a couple years in the dark and relative dryness of the barn.

Splitting the seasoned Osage orange (Bois d’Arc) stave is shown above.  Not visible here are short hickory wedges that are jammed into the growing crack to keep the stave from snapping shut.  With some woods the staves will simply pop apart but it seems that, more often than not, the splitter must overcome the tenacity of the fibrous wood.  Power sawing is definitely a possibility but requires more tools, more energy, and does not show the irregularities as well.  Splitting puts you in touch with the soul of the wood.

 

split open

Laid open, it is time to examine for undiscovered twists, knots, and other irregularities.

 

Splitting can be a tough process. As can be seen in the photo above, I use an axe, froe, and hammer.  I’m awful when it comes t remembering to stop and take photographs.  After cleaning up and heading to the next phase, I had to re-stage this photo and forgot to put the wedges back in.

de-barking

Stripping down to reveal the beauty underneath.

Some species of white woods debark quite easily and the bow can be made directly from the outer growth rings.  Not so with Osage orange. The whiter new wood is visible in the stave above as the outer rings are worked down to a single thick growth ring.  This process is easiest with a sharp draw knife working downward.  Your weight can be used to pull through the bark.  Gravity is your friend.

0647

Revealing the different look, color, and texture of the growth rings.

Above is a close-up of working down to a single growth ring. With Osage, there is a white, porous, vesicular layer between hard wood rings. This is just visible here as the white wood.  It should be worked down to a single, dark and dense layer; preferably a thick, slow-growth year ring.

 

0649

Sighting down the clean stave.

Not perfectly straight, but then it would hardly be Osage otherwise.  I can work with this. It’s time to imagine a perfectly straight line down the back of the bow.  This will be your starting point when laying it out.

0652

Another look at growth rings revealed.

The growth rings are quite visible in this low, raking light. The smooth area nearest the viewer is down to the desired ring.  This will be the “back” of the bow, meaning the side facing away from the shooter.  Crossing the rings could cause the limb to “lift” and crack as the rings are stressed and pulled apart.

0646

Shaping and thinning.

This is nearing its final shape. This is a different stave from the one shown above but gets the point across.  I’ve documented the next part of the process elsewhere but will recap soon.

If you want to make a bow, dive in, don’t be afraid.  Get a piece of wood and go to it.

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Thoughts Provoked by a Sloyd Workbench Advertisement

A bit of personal history –

I never touched a tool in high school.  When I was there, kids were openly placed in two “tracks;” either Academic or General education.  I know I wasn’t the sharpest student and I generally disliked almost everything about being in school but I was placed among the Academics.  In lieu of shop classes (woodworking, metal shop, electricity, etc.) I learned a lot from a former engineer-cum-teacher who taught Drafting and Engineering Drawing.  This was the closest thing to shop class a kid on the Academic track could do.  Why? I have no idea.  We learned about house design, making scale plans, estimating materials, and other useful things.

Engineer drawing.

Fortunately, my grandfather was a handy guy who grew up on a farm and spent his early years in the building trade so I learned the basics of using a square, compass, saws, planes, and the like from him.  Also, being left as a somewhat feral child, I was able to use and abuse the family tools and learned many valuable lessons the slow and often frustrating way.  When I was sixteen, I began working part-time for a construction company as a laborer with the thought I might make that my profession.  I learned a lot, both good and bad, by observation and exposure, and continued to work as a carpenter in various capacities through graduate school a decade later.

Elementary school Sloyd.

Where am I going with this ramble? 

It was a long and meandering road for me with many side excursions and dead-ends, and although I feel grateful for all the lessons and training I received along the way, I sometimes lament the loss of craftsmanship and the values of creativity in schools.  In short, education isn’t an either/or proposition; that you are either on track for academic pursuits or you will be in the labor force.  I have met many geniuses with little formal education and many fine academics who excel in the manual arts.

Teach your children well.  Real life skills are too important to be left to others.