Friday 31 December 2010

Christmas Presents

The one advantage of the downtime I've had meant that I could finish all the presents for Christmas.
These ranged from silly little snowmen tree decorations for the ladies in my life:
To a cold frame for my mum (I forgot to take a picture of it finished):
To a bowl from a Alder burr for my wife using a tree my brother cut down 6 years ago on the farm (quite pleased with this as its my first bowl and quite tough wood):
To a carving gouge with a new handle (and a little round mallet to go with it - no picture again) for my brother:
I've also got 2 raised vegetable beds to make for the mothering law but it's not really the right time of year for that. I hope people don't mind homemade gifts

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Down time

Well the work I had booked in for this week was all outside, so that means no work this week and no money. The joys of being self employed.
[Workshop in the snow]
If I can get to the timber yard tomorrow then I have a paying job I can do (a sapele gate) but other than that I'm trapped at home.
So time to make the most of my situation I managed to get to the builders merchants today and buy lots of 3x2 and 4x2 to try and organise my workshop a little more. The plan is to build a small bench for the bench mounted sander I've just brought, and a larger one to site my mitre saw wit a place to roll my planner out of the way.
I've made the first bench today sand turned an area like this:
Into this:
My work benches are all made fairly easily using halving joints glued and screwed together, they should last a few years and if we ever get a bigger place I can take them with me.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

What goes on behind those walls?

Sometimes the best sign of a good tradesman is the fact that you can't see he's been there.

That was the case the week before last, as we were battening out an old brick wall. In the end all you could see was a perfectly plumb plywood wall but behind that there were all the timber grounds to straighten it out, full of wedges and packers, once its tiled there will be no clue a carpenter was ever there.
The shower floor will be another example of this. as we were raising the floor up 6inches anyway the customer decided that they didn't want a standard type shower tray. Instead they wanted one that was sunk into the floor. This meant positioning the trap to the shower and then making the floor fall in four directions into it, bit of a test of my geometry skills! It will then be tanked before the tiles are laid.

I've also been doing plenty of wood turning this week (due to the fact that we can't leave the village due to snow) but most of it is presents so I can't put them on here just yet!

Tuesday 14 December 2010

A sad tradesman

The village carpenter is easily one of my favorite books. It's a book that makes me long to be born in a different time where craftmanship was appreciated and skill was hard earned. I love to re read parts of this book and it really inspires me to try harder in my trade.
The reason I mention this book is because something minor happened that reminded me of it on site today. There is a lovely sad bit in the book where Walter Rose describes how he lent his saw to labourer to cut wood and he later found it broken, when he talks about this saw you can feel how much this misuse hurt him.
Well today I lent a labour a chisel - it will now have to be re-ground (big chunk missing). This doesn't bother me too much, but the misuse and treatment of the tool does, I hate lending my tools to people but when I do I hope they treat them with the same respect that I have for them, normally they don't!
This coupled with the fact that I've been putting UPVC fascia on (in the rain) to a new extension where the brick work isn't even anywhere near level leaves me with little doubt about where the British builder stereotype comes from.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Trying to match architrave

Matching old architraves can be a pain. Friday was my last day on working on the old rectory until next year and one of the final jobs I did was to make up some architrave.
I did this by ripping down some MDF and putting a bead on it with my little router and fixing this to the frame. I then went to fix on some normal architrave on top of this but it looked far to big, so it was back outside in the cold to rip down the architrave until it was the same size as the other. All glued and nailed it matches in well (I also put in the blocks at the bottom of the architrave like the rest of the house), just needs a coat of MDF sealer and a lick of paint.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Stay Sharp

I'm obsessive about keeping tools sharp and I hate to see people using tools that aren't. That's why yesterday I had to take my current work mates chisels home and sharpen them for him.
He'd brought them new and used them straight out of the box, wrongly assuming that they were sharp from new, a mistake I've seen a lot of people make (in fact I'm sure I thought it at some point).
[Sharpening using an oil stone on my trusty saw horse]
Honing is what gives a single edge tool its sharpness
On site I carry an oil stone to hone a quick edge onto my chisels and plane irons (one day I'll get a diamond stone but for now this does a great job), back at the workshop I use my secret weapon - a reverse running grinder with a felt wheel (the green one on the right hand side in the photo below). This sharpens blades in seconds to a razor edge whilst hardly taking any metal off the tool, it's great for curved tools like gouges - something that most people struggle with otherwise.
[My "sharpening staion" in my workshop]
The grinder on the left (the white one where the wheel needs dressing) is used if the tool needs regrinding (if its been honed too many times and started to "nose over" or if I've hit a nail and taken a chunk out of it), fitted with a number of jigs this enables me to sharpen pretty much everything I've got from woodturning chisels to plane irons.
What systems do other people use? I'd love to hear about them.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Fixing handrail

The house We've been working in also runs as a B&B. The trouble is guests are a little heavy handed with the handrail on the stairs, banging bags on them as they walk up.

The handrail itself had become really lose and their were 6 spindles missing at the bottom and quite a few loose ones on the way up. Time to get out the glue!
There were some spare spindles I could use from another handrail that had been taken down previously. I first had to clean out the filler from all the mortice's and then cut each spindle individually with a little tenon on the end to provide a good Strong fit. I glued and screwed the tops to the handrail after cutting the mitre to suit. In the end it firmed up the whole handrail and the new spindles matched in pretty well, a quick polish and no one will no I've been there!
I've been asked to come back next year to finish off another handrail that has been altered, but this will be a bigger job involving turning a new newel post and altering steps, but one I'm looking forward to!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Door hanging

It's funny how the jobs people are really pleased with are sometimes your bread and butter work like hanging doors.

Yesterday I hung a door in the opening I'd cut through a brick wall the week before. The customer was really pleased with the result, and so was I as we'd managed to install lintels without damaging the plaster or wall paper on the other side - not an easy task.
The door itself was reclaimed so I had to make up the frame from scratch to suit it (the wall was also an odd thickness). Then I wedged the lining to suit the door.

There is always a bit of messing around when hanging an old door (packing out hinges, filling old holes) but its worth spending the extra time as they look good when they're done and in keeping with the property. Next week I've got to make up some architrave from scratch to match whats in the rest of the property

Monday 29 November 2010

A dirty job

I'd love to be a purist when it comes to my trade. I remember when I started, I told Andy (my friend who trained me) that I wanted to only do carpentry and joinery, he said that you can't say this - as to find enough work to pay the bills you sometimes have to do other things. The last two weeks I've been doing some of the other things (as well as carpentry).
The main purpose of the project is to raise the floor in a bathroom of an old Georgian Rectory. but this also involves fixing guttering, changing soil pipe, ripping lath and plaster off the walls and cutting a new doorway through brick wall. The building itself is beautiful and its great to be working on something so full of craftsmanship, but two hundred year old dust gets into places I didn't know dust could get!
Every job we've done has uncovered a little bit of history (and normally another problem), whether its finding newspapers from the '70s (when it was last renovated) or seeing that the timbers used to hold the timber grounds for the lath and plaster are recycled from ships and barns (and to think we think recycling is a new thing!)
This week should be a lot cleaner, today we got most of the joists in for the new floor and tomorrow my workmate should get the pipe work in so we can cover the floor with ply. I've only got to the end of the week here so I need to start to look for some more work next week, hopefully shouldn't be a problem.

Sunday 28 November 2010

More green wood turning

My green wood turning went quite well the other night but the only way to get better is to practice.
This Thursday night I turned another goblet (and without being too boastful I got top of the class) and on Saturday I turned another in my quite cold shed (even with the heating on full).
I'm managing to get them quite thin and even but I'm not completely happy with the finish. it's a shame I can't sand them but its good practice to get a good finish straight from the tool. I think I need to experiment more to get a better shape
[A fresh Beech log to turn with, nice and wet]

[The log mounted on my chuck I turned at quite a fast speed]

[The first goblet]

[The second goblet]

I have applied linseed oil to both as a finish instead of drying them in the microwave. I've been told that the oil drives out the moisture and should prevent them cracking as they dry as well as giving them a nice colour.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Purple Heart

My little sister turned 21 the other week and I wanted to make her something as well as buying her a present.
I decided that something turned on the lathe might be best as she hasn't got huge amounts of space at uni and this way I could make something small that might be useful.
In the end I decided to make an earring tree, but I wanted to make it a little bit different so I made a trip to the timber merchants and brought some purple heart. A timber that turns to a beautiful dark purple when exposed to light and air.
What I didn't realise is how difficult this stuff is to turn! I must have sharpened my chisels twenty times during the process, and it took ages to sand up.

I made the piece in four separate parts and sanded each piece individually, I also had to take it in to the guild house (where I have wood turning lessons) and use their indexer to accurately drill the holes for the earrings to slot into.
Unfortunately when I was applying the oil finish I must have put one coat on too thick and I had to cut it back with meths and start the finish all over again (the oil sat on top and wouldn't shine up).
In the end I was please with the finished piece but I wont be using purple heart again for some time! My sister seemed pleased with it as well (only trouble was that it wasn't as big as the bench my brother made for her - I think we're too competitive!)

Sunday 21 November 2010

Tool sale

Its been a while since I've been to an auction so I was quite looking forward to the tool and wood auction in Ledbury.
I arrived late as the chickens were trying to make a bid for freedom so I had to sort them out first, that meant I missed most of the wood being sold, but most of it was far to big to put into my little van anyway. There was some lovely big elm planks about 5ft wide and 8ft long that went for £140 each - bargain as they can't grow them like that anymore - make someone a lovely table. The only wood I wish I bid on was a box of walnut blanks for turning, but I couldn't get at them to see it and I wasn't going to bid blind.
I met up with my wood turning teacher, Chris, and we made sure we weren't going to bid on the same things.
In the end I only brought a box of bits and bobs. It looked like rubbish but I saw it came with three different sized boxes for making large screw threads, I've always wanted some of these but they're normally far too expensive to buy unless you've got a paying job for them. Now maybe one day I can make my own tail vice from scratch!
This little box cost me £25 when my fees were added on, one of those screw thread boxes is about £30 so I was quite pleased (there was even an old invoice in the box from 1977).
I was even more please when I got home and sorted through the rest of the box to find lots of waxes, dyes, filler sticks, polishes and sealers. Some had dried up but most was fine. Also there was a wire tightened picture frame clamp chucked in for good measure.
A great addition to my collection of finishes. I think I need to build somewhere safe and lockable to store them all though.

Green Woodturning

Thursday nights are turning nights.

I'm in my third term of wood turning lessons with an excellent tutor Chris Eagles. I started properly at the beginning of this year and now, with the help of these lessons, I can turn to a reasonable standard and quite quickly. Nothing too complicated yet though but its good for present making and hopefully I will pick up some restoration work from it.
The Thursday just gone we were given a lump of "green" timber (unseasoned and fell that week due to the heavy winds we've been having) to turn with. We were then shown how to turn a goblet and told to make our own. I tired to keep the natural bark edge on mine but unfortunately a snatch of the chisel took most of it off!
For the piece to dry without splitting it has to be turned to the same thickness so it dries at the same speed. To gauge how thick it is we used a light aimed in the middle of the piece, when the light shines through evenly then it is all the same thickness. (I'll get some more pictures next time I make one).
Then all we had to do was put it in the microwave to dry it out, but more about that another time.

Monday 15 November 2010

Potting Bench

A quick flap of a magazine under my nose and the customer says "I want it like this". A couple of hours later the 12ft long potting bench is complete.

The top is just 2x1 roofing batten (I was working to a budget) which I routed to take the corners off and then sanded all over with a nice coarse 80 grit sand paper. The back of the bench is also notched to go round a brick pillar in the greenhouse. In the end it had a nice smoothed over feel to it, with no sharp edges.
The customer was very pleased (she just needs the greenhouse to go up now!), makes my potting bench feel quite inferior though!

Sunday 14 November 2010

Do you use a mallet?

On Tuesday I was removing some wood from an opening using a chisel when the young apprentice sparky came up to me and asked what that "wood thing" was I was using to hit my chisels with.
I thought he was joking at first, and I said that he must have seen one on other sites or at college but he said he hadn't, the chippies he knew just used their hammers.
I was referring to my mallet.

(A 7 year old picture of me cleaning out a mortise to accept a large oak beam with a slip tenon, using my mallet and chisel)

I know that chisels have changed and plastic handles are much less likely to split with a hammer blow, but aren't we loosing something by using our hammers instead.
I'm fussy with my chisels, I keep them sharp and I only hit them with my mallet.
In an age where it seems craftsmanship is dying, on site at least, I'm glad that I was taught the "proper" way and it'll be a cold day in hell before I put my mallet on the wood pile.
Who's with me?

Friday 12 November 2010

Work Benches

I've been working for a builder over the last few weeks who has pretty much left me to the disposal of lovely couple who want certain things making and finishing off. Some of these jobs have been awful tto do - like the two automatic garage doors I've just fitted - and some have been great, like these work benches I made.
My brief was simple; they were to be a metre high, roughly so long (makes gesture with hands) and to make them strong. With 6x2 rails notched into 4x4 legs and 1inch marine ply on top they were really pleased, no chance of these falling down anytime soon.

Sunday 7 November 2010

So vain

Last week i made a vanity unit for a customer insitu. The room is built with one sloping wall and a whole host of pipes behind it, so a brought in unit wouldn't do.
I had to make it out of ply and MDF with a softwood frame, the ply as some of it was to be tiled and the MDF for the painted areas. The customer changed her mind 7 times whilst I was making it though, she couldn't decide what to have as a top. in the end she decided against kitchen worktop (luckily). Bit of a nightmare but we got there in the end!
Now with a lick of paint I'm quite pleased with it, I really like their choice of painting the doors white.

A New Blog

Well its almost a year today that I lost my big job in the city and although its taken me a long time to truly come to terms with it, I think that ultimately I'm happier as a carpenter rather than a manager (although I get tempted by job security and salaries).
Having been in management for three years you start to loose touch with what you can create with your hands. The simple pleasure of going to bed and being physically tired rather than being stressed mentally and having a nights restless sleep. Five years previous to this I was a happy chippy working in the countryside enjoying what I did.
I did enjoy being a manager most of the time and the responsibilities that came with it, but I also enjoy the simple thank you of a job well done.
If I stay as a carpenter then this blog will document my quest to become the best craftsman I can possibly be. My work will be site based carpentry, small joinery projects in my workshop and as I improve with my wood turning I'd like to include this more into the way that I earn my living.
At 27 I've got a lot to learn, but if I didn't then I think it would be quite boring...
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