This year I decided to do a week long woodworking course at Sturt in Mittagong as part of their Summer School series. Sturt is renown for its wood, weaving and ceramic courses and many well known artists have taught at the school, or undertaken residencies. Not only is Sturt a place to learn wonderful things, it also is set in very beautiful surroundings and has a wonderful coffee shop and gallery.
Ive always wanted to do a woodworking course and I thought making a windsor stool would be a good sized project to undertake. The teacher was Howard Archbold of Rare Chairs, who makes Windsor Chairs using traditional tools and techniques. No power tools are used in the creation of his furniture. He kept saying the loudest thing you could hear in his workshop in the Hunter Valley was the sound of the waterfall. Sounds idyllic!
So anyway, I had a fast introduction to a number of hand tools I had never seen before and learnt new terms all which sounded positively medieval!
The first thing we did was to cut and shape the seat of the stool from camphor laurel wood. Although I am quite adept at cutting using a regular hand saw, we used a HUGE old fashioned one, and needless to say my circle was a little wonky. Using a spokeshave (you can see it in the above picture) we smoothed and rounded the edge of the seat. We then hollowed the seat top using a rounded scorping tool originally used to make oak barrels. This process pretty much took a whole day to complete.
My perfectly round seat (above). It took me two attempts!
Next we split wood for the legs. We used a green wood called rubinia (or black locust). Green wood is used because when the legs are tapped into the seat, the moisture difference between the legs and the seat differs ensuring when the wood dries, a tight fit occurs. This was how stools and chairs were made centuries ago, without the aid of nails or superglue.
As you can see the legs are pretty rough, so we had to roughly shape them into round poles on the old fashioned vices which work on the principle of using your body weight to hold the wood in the vice. (above)
Taking a break in the picturesqe Sturt Gardens.
The pole lathes which I thought were for turning poles, is actually made from poles. It is a very clever invention and goes back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians. A piece of rope is attached to a pedal (very similar to the old pedal sewing machines) which is then wrapped around the wood to be shaped, and the pole (or sapling) at the top assists with the movement of the wood. Its a great way to learn how to shape on the lathe because if the chisel gets stuck in the wood, it simply stops turning.
My almost finished legs.
Next was figuring out the style of the stretcher to space the legs. I chose a three legged stool and the T style.Next step was to drill the holes for the legs. This was quite a tricky part of the assemblage - the legs had to be at an angle, but I wasnt allowed to get the wobbles whilst drilling the holes (my head is used to stabilise the drill).
The legs are still green and will take about 3 months to dry out. When they do, it turns into a delicious warm brown. I have lightly limed the legs.
Phew! What a week. I had a fab time and I learnt heaps, met lots of lovely people and best of all walked away with my very own piece of furniture. I have a feeling Im going to be making a lot more stools and who knows, I may even take the challenge and make a Windsor Chair next!