Now that I am retired, I had the time to finally go to school to better my hand skills. I chose to go to the Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Now, I’ve been watching Roy Underhill’s PBS program off and on for years, and it had been my original inspiration to try hand tool woodworking in the first place. But, to meet Roy and some of his guest speakers, and learn their techniques, was something special.
Our guest instructor was Bill Anderson, who has been on Roy’s show several times. Bill is a veritable treasure trove of traditional hand woodworking technique, and is more than happy to share it. While under Bill and Roy’s tutelage, I learned to use hide glue (VILE smelling stuff), cut dovetails with a coping saw, build the elusive sliding dovetail, and best of all, saw a straight line!
Bill looked over my sawing technique, saw my faulty body mechanics, and helped me correct my errors. As I practice more, my elusive goal is more firmly in my grasp. Now I can progress to other things.
My workbench at the Woodwright’s School. Each student has his or her own bench with basic tools. There are literally a metric ton of hand tools of every type available in bins, drawers, shelves, nooks, and crannys around the shop. It felt very Rubouesque.
Our project was a basic small tool chest. Built from 5/8 poplar, it was secured with 28 dovetails, and had a hand molded skirt around the bottom. The lid was frame and panel, all the grooves, mortise, tenon, and panel profiles cut by hand. It was very intensive, but we all finished on time.
Here’s mine, back home and ready for hardware and paint. It will come in handy as my large chest is bursting at the seams!
Even with the hectic work schedule, daily going from 9 a.m. to after 6 p.m., there was still time to relax and enjoy the great weather and excellent food around the school.
Roy working with glue up technique. Hide glue is wonderful stuff, creating a great bond that sets up quickly. But the smell is a cross between a stable and a stye. I took to calling it monkey snot, due to it’s smell and texture. Not sure if my wife would tolerate it in our home.
Bill discussing squaring our panels. Bill and Roy have an incredible amount of knowledge, and are always ready to help out a struggling newbie.
And, of course, there’s the tool store upstairs. When I first saw it, I thought I was in heaven! The hardest part was not blowing all my food money for the week. It was a strain, but I kept it down to four original wooden hand planes, two beaders, a toothing plane, and an awesome moving fillitster. Ed Lebetkin runs the store, and is a font of knowledge on period tools. He has personally selected and cleaned up everything he sells, and there is very little there that can’t be used off the shelf. In fact, he has a bench in the store and lots of scrap wood to try out a tool before buying. He even hand ground a cambered iron for my #5 back home.
If you ever get the chance to get to the Woodwright’s School, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is a wonderful experience, and it’s impossible to come away without having gained knowledge in hand tool work.
P.S. – Finally got the tool chest done. It took a while to get the proper hinges, and then I had to order screws as the hinges didn’t come with any. Oi!
A note about milk paint. I have used the kind you mix up, and I liked the finished results on my bug out box. But, I was feeling a bit lazy, so I bought something in a can that said milk paint on it. I had no illusions, I figured it was just latex paint with pigments to match a traditional color of milk paint. So, I gave it a whirl. I was a little disappointed.
The little cup at the base of the chest shows the electric blue that came out of the can. Not wanting to buy more paint, I went through my shelves and found some black analine dye. First, I mixed in some liquid dye, which started to work, but it needed more to get the Federal Blue I wanted. So, in went about a half teaspoon of dye powder. Lots of stirring and transfer to another cup later, and I was pleased with the new color.
The inside of the lid was coated with a little traditional wax and linseed oil. I wanted to protect the autographs of Bill Anderson and Roy Underhill!
My drills and moulding planes now have a home.