Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Building a Sound Garden.

What a great project!
The Swan Valley Anglican Community School approached me to build a Sound Garden at the school with the students from the Student Council. A small piece of garden with two trees in it was set aside for the task. We would be using mostly recycled materials for the task.

Our workforce comprised about 16 students, two wonderful parent volunteers, a couple of fantastic staff, the very handy Thom Scott and myself. It would be very full day.

Before we commenced on the day, I asked each of the students to say what they hoped the Sound Garden space would provide. The kids came up with some very thoughtful comments, with a few common themes:

  1. Somewhere to have fun, 
  2. Somewhere to express your feelings, 
  3. A place to go when you feel down,
  4. A place to go when you feel good,
  5. A place to enjoy playing music with your friends, and
  6. A place to help you feel better.
Clearly kids, too, have an appreciation of the connection between music and emotions!

Well, the aim of the Sound Garden is to be true to these wishes and much more...
Being involved in the building of it would deliver other dividends from participation by the students.

The kids and teachers together had decided on the layout of the Sound Garden. Once this was done, the task of digging all the holes for the posts began. 
Fitting the keys to the Marimba.

I had gathered up a heap of materials, and pre-made some components in order for the task to be achievable within the day. The net result made by the end of the day installed in the new Sound Garden was:
  • A Marimba, with two pairs of hammers. 
Mounted on a jarrah frame, the keys were made from Vitex, a timber from PNG &Solomon Islands which has wonderful acoustic properties. Each key was an inch shorter than the one before, giving a range of sounds. While these can be tuned, this Marimba is more random, leaving the kids to explore the combination possibilities. The hammers have no rubber ends, for a sharper sound.

  • A set of four long Steel Pipe Chimes hanging from the branch of a tree, with hammer.
Each of the four pipe pieces are of different lengths, and are hanging from a branch of a tree, with steel cables. They make a lovely ringing sound when played.

  • Two Cajon Drums (mounted on posts).
Made from 12mm Marine Ply, I had pre-assembled one, and a group of students glued and nailed the other together. These were installed each on a pair of legs, with the sound hole underneath, to keep the rain out. A drum you sit on to play with your hands, they make a fantastic sound.

  • A Tongue Drum with two pairs of hammers (mounted on posts).
Based on an ancient Aztec instrument, this was another I had pre-made the day before. It would just require fixing to a pair of legs. The top with the tongues cut in it was made from jarrah, with a 12mm Marine Ply sound box below, with the base open as the sound hole. The hammers for this have walking stick rubbers on the ends, for a nice soft sound.

  • A variable Base Drum. 
Based on a Tea Chest Base I used to play in a Bush Band, this consists of a pole with a 25 litre drum attached to it. The string runs between the centre of the drum top and a lever at the top. Pulling on the lever changes the tension in the string, which alters the tone. Wonderfully simple and effective.

  • A Kitchen Percussion Stack.
Arranged vertically on a threaded rod and mounted on the end of the Marimba, the percussion stack is a fantastic collection of metal bowls and cake tins, crowned with a teapot at the top. It's a sort of Bali-esque sound which the kids get a lot of pleasure experimenting with!

  • A Cultery Wind Chime, hanging in a tree.
About 20 knives, forks and spoons with holes drilled in one end were each hanging by a fishing trace (with swivels) from a flat vegetable/cheese grater. It makes a very gentle sound in the breeze. which could be increased with the addition of a hanging "banger" in the middle. However it is probably the most susceptible to kids with swinging sticks! I observed this a couple of times after it was hung up high in the tree.  

  • A Wooden Wind Chime, hanging in the other tree.
The students made this from the pieces of Vitex cut out of the backs of the Marimba keys. They cleaned up the ends with a saw, removed the arrises with a block plane, drilled holes in the ends, and used 80lb fishing lines with swivels to hang the pieces of wood from a saucepan lid with holes punched the around the perimeter. It makes a very nice soft  wooden tinkle tinkle sound in the breeze. 

  • A TomTom or Big Base Drum.
Made from a heavy plastic 100 litre drum mounted between two posts, it makes an amazing sound. When I pound heavily on the top of it, I can make the adjacent roof of the covered walkway rattle! Awesome!

The Staff at the School say the next phase of the Sound Garden will include installing a Thong-a-phone, a small Stage made from Pallets, a Chalk Board on the wall behind, and some Musical Note stepping stones as part of the landscaping. Nice.   

It was a great day, a noisy day, and a day when many of the kids had their first experiences with hand tools. Some students got right into the making tasks, with shovels, saws, hammers, block planes, rasps, hand drills, brace and bits, spanners, and much more - while others provided an array of musical accompaniment for us!

It will be great to see how the new Sound Garden evolves. Great job, Student Councillors! 
May the Sound Garden give you all you hoped for and more...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Another visit to Urban Boatbuilders, Minneapolis USA.

While in the USA in November 2010, I was pleased to visit an organisation called "Urban Boatbuilders" in a suburban shopfront in Minneapolis. This was another fantastic project I had checked out at that time, in my quest to explore youthworking programs which use woodwork as the primary tool to work with the young people. The Mission of Urban Boatbuilders is:  Positive Youth Development through the Building and Use of Boats.

Wooden boats are a big thing in the USA, unlike Australia. I guess they have tens of thousands of inland lakes and waterways, so that must help, plus a much longer tradition of wooden boatbuilding.
One of the views inside the workshop.
 Three years later, wile staying with our friends in Minneapolis again, I contacted Urban Boatbuilders for another visit. Great to see that they are still there! Not all organisations survived the GFC and subsequent belt-tightening.

I braved the traffic on a deadly treadly, riding on the "wrong" side of the road, and fudging it at the traffic lights (you can turn right at a red light) - or chickening out at the lights and pushing it over the pedestrian walks! It was only about 3 or 4 miles to ride, but the wind chill on the bike was pretty extreme! 
What a great idea. Housed in an outer shop of a shopping centre.
Thanks to staff members Mark and Sarah for kindly giving me some of their administrative time as I asked a lot of questions about their operation and programs. I only had a short window, as did they, but I was really glad to see that they are still doing wonderful stuff : "Building youth, one boat at a time".

I recall that when I visited in 2010, I stuck around for quite a while getting involved with a bunch of kids who were doing the maths and planning for the setting out of the ribs for the hull of a small sailing craft they were making. This visit I was there before the kids arrived after school, so I didn't get any action shots.

In 2010, I was inspired by the idea of running such a program in a shopping centre shop, and inspired by what they were doing using wooden boat building as a medium to work positively and creatively with young people. Even then I was thinking about running programs from a shop front. That concept has still not left me.

In 2013, I was very pleased to see that Urban Boatbuilders continues to be there, and continue to do great things with young people. I also remain inspired by what they are going in such a relatively small premises.

What a wonderful program! Keep up the great work.

A week at Country Workshops rounds off my Green Woodworking Odyssey in the USA.

My delightful Green Woodworking Odyssey in the USA continued, learning from Drew Langsner, in the Blue Ridge Mountains - about an hour from Asheville, NC.

While I had come to the USA to attend the Woodworking in America conference/gathering (WIA), I had also made it my mission to use my time in the USA to learn green woodworking skills. Once I had booked into the WIA many months earlier, I then set about trying to find some courses/workshops to do. While the internet is a wonderful way of accessing information, it was not easy to find what was on offer and be able to hook it all together logistically within the time frame available - especially with a very limited knowledge of the USA and its geography.

As a result of my searching and emails back and forth, I had booked into a week with Roy Underhill at the Woodwright's School and a week at Country Workshops with Drew Langsner - both in North Carolina. I was not to be disappointed!!
Louise and Drew Langsner.
At the WIA, I plugged into workshops with Peter Follansbee, Roy Underhill and Peter Galbert - all doing stuff with green wood. This was a great kick-off for my intended learning curve. Having followed Peter Follansbee's blog for so long, it was delightful to be able to meet him and learn from him, live. It was all his fault that I was here, as it was his 17th Century Woodworking blog and musings which had fired up in me a desire to expand my skills into green woodworking. Thanks so much, Peter!

After participating in the wonderful Woodcraft Week at Roy's place at McBane Mill, NC, my next workshop was Carving Bowls and Spoons, at Country Workshops, Drew and Louise Langsner's place the Appalachians, where they have been running green woodworking workshops since the late 1970's.
Drew shares the story of the bowl, Swedish and Norwegian style.
Carving Bowls and Spoons.
When you attend a workshop or tutorial at Country Workshops, you stay there on the property, I slept in a cute little log cabin on the edge of the forest. You are also fed incredibly well with the most beautiful and healthy food by Louise. The whole package is delightful, and the Langsners are wonderful hosts.

The cute little log cabin I stayed in at Country workshops.
These tutorials have a maximum of 4 people. The fourth person didn't show, so there were just three of us. Grant and Matt were both really nice guys, and it was a real pleasure to share the week with them. The three of us got on like a house on fire, and we had a lot of fun sharing the woodworking journey together.
Drew demonstrates the use of a froe to split a piece of white pine.
Drew was a great teacher and is clearly a very talented artisan in wood. He is meticulous, particular, and very helpful. He gave us the background and history on all the tools we used, and the teaching continued at night as we watched videos of bowl carvers and Swedish woodworkers by night. We could also access the workshop in the evenings and early mornings, so many an extra hour was spent in the workshop, working on our projects or starting new ones. Besides, it was a nice warm place to be!! Autumn (Fall) was moving on, most of the leaves had fallen, and the cold was moving in...
A sample of the variety of spoons and spreaders on hand to help us thing about design and structure.

The bowl carving methods were based on the Swedish and Norwegian techniques, as were lots of the spoon designs. There is such a long tradition of green woodworking to produce functional and beautiful household items and utensils in the Northern European countries, and I really enjoyed tapping into that for the first time.
Love that small hewing axe!
Well. it all starts from a tree. Some freshly cut pieces of Tulip Poplar were available for the wooden bowl carving, as well as Basswood, White Pine, Mountain Laurel (thanks, Grant) for the spoons and spreaders - and Black Beech which we went out and felled in the forest.
We selected and cut the lengths of material for use, then split them with a froe. From there it was axe work and maybe a bit of drawknife work on the shaving horse to get our spoon blanks ready for the next step.
The first spreader is planned from a piece of White Pine. A roughing knife.
The detail knife is used to refine the shape further.
The finished product!  A nice spreader.
An array of hook knives, roughing knives and detail knives are used in the process of making spoons, and learning the different kinds of cuts and how to do them safely is an important part of the learning process. There is great potential to do yourself some mischief here! These tools are razor sharp. Adzes were used for the bowl carving. We also used a range of gouges for both spoons and bowls.
Grant and Matt shaping their spreaders, using assorted knives, A nice way to chat!
Mountain Laurel spoon roughed out with a hewing axe.

One of the shaping phases of the spoon's bowl, using a small gouge.
The finished Mountain Laurel spoon. A more Norwegian style.

I confess I really loved the axe work, and quickly got to be quite proficient at roughing out spoons and the big bowl in the waste removal process.
A nice fresh piece of Black Birch about to be riven in two.
Grant looks very relaxed as he carves another beautiful spoon.
Splitting a peice of Tulip Poplar to make two bowls.
Nice timber in that log!
The spoons were dried in the microwave when they were 80% finished, to enable the final sanding and to stablise the wood in a seasoned or dry state. The wooden bowl was another story. Being too big for the microwave, the drying can be done using a plastic bag, to slow down the rate of moisture loss, which helps prevent cracking. You take the bowl out of the bag, turn the bag inside out to remove any accumulated condensation, leave the bowl in a cool dry environment for a period of time, then stick it in the bag again, only to repeat the process again and again for a couple of weeks. Once the bowl no longer feels cold on your cheek, it is dry. It is all about helping the vacate the cells in a restrained manner, as this helps to prevent cracking.
Beautiful small bowl adze for initial hollowing of the bowl.

Matt goes the next step, shaping with the gouge.

The bowl is taking shape. Spokeshaving the outside curves. 
The spoon emerges from a piece of Black Birch. Still to be finished off here.
My problem is that Australian Customs can be very tough on people bringing green wood into the country. I have encountered this before. You have to declare wood, and there is a great risk that my lovely Tulip Poplar bowl might be confiscated, at the whim of a grumpy Customs official. However sometimes you can just get through after declaring it with barely a look from them. It would be too risky. So what to do? I gave the bowl (and the drying instructions) to my good friends Nancy and Bob, whom I stayed with in Minneapolis. Better for them to have, use and enjoy it than for it to be potentially destroyed by Australian Customs! I hope they get lots of great use from it. It couldn't go to a better home. Thanks, Nancy and Bob.
The goodies I made during the week at Country Woodcraft.
Three spoons, three spreaders, and a bowl.
My aim from this trip to the USA was to grow my green woodworking skills and ultimately to add these to the ever expanding list of traditional woodworking skills and activities that I teach. My time at Woodworking in America and Roy Underhill's Woodwright School, really got me going. The week I spent at Country Workshops learning from Drew Langsner was a fantastic consolidation of my learning curve. I am so glad I went there. I'm so glad I came to the US and plugged into all this stuff!

Green woodworking? ... I'm hooked!


Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Woodworking in America 2013" - I was there!!

After wishing I could be there for the last few years, I have finally done it!

I went to the "Woodworking in America 2013" Conference/Event (WIA) in Cincinnati, Ohio in October. What a joy it was to be there too! I was one of many hundreds of woodworkers present, but other than an Adelaide boy who lives and works in the USA now, I was the only Australian as far as I know.

Imagine it... Two and a half days of non-stop woodworking talk, demonstrations,  tools and activity. Bliss. Even more blissfully, there were hardly any bods selling power tools and machines in the "Market Place". The focus was pretty much on hand tools there. Fantastic second hand and antique tools for sale, new tools from the many boutique saw makers, plane makers, and other tool makers that the USA woodworking community can support. Timber, gadgets, books, and paraphernalia for all things wood. There was even the Hand Tool Olympics going on in there all day too.

Day 1, I started the morning going to a demonstration by well known woodcarver Mary May, who was demonstrating "Carving life into leaves".
Mary May shows us how to do it.
I then went to the session by Peter Follansbee on "Carved spoons". I have been following Peter's blog for about 3 years now, and have his book from last year and it's forerunner. Mr Follansbee, you have been partly responsible for my getting fired up about wanting to do green woodworking over the last couple of years, which is why I am here at WIA and more! It's all your fault!..Thankyou.
Peter expounds on why the commercial cheap wooden kitchen spoon is symbolic of all that is wrong with the world.
With deft axe work, Peter hews a spoon from a crotch of fruit wood.
Roughly shaped by axe, now for the knife work..
Nice spoons, Peter!
It was so nice to meet Peter, to hear and watch him demonstrating, and to learn from him. Afterwards  I quietly presented him with a nice Spotted Gum carving mallet (Eucalyptus maculata) which I had made and brought to him from Australia as a gift to thank him for getting me going on this green woodworking journey.

Next I spent some time at the Marketplace, including participating in the Hand Tool Olympics - a great experience which gave me many ideas for the Perth Wood Show and other events next year. I salivated over the piles of antique tools for sale, and thought of my colleagues in the Hand Tool Preservation Society of WA, back home in Australia. I bought a very beautiful folding drawknife, with a patent date of 1896 on it. I'm no collector, though - I would be using it all the next week!
SO many beautiful old drawknives in one stall alone! Patrick Leech's stall.
How about a rebate plane?
Later that afternoon Peter Follansbee was doing another session - this time on "17th century carving". Another one I didn't want to miss. Fantastic to be there and see the sequencing for doing the relief carvings. He is such a full bottle that he could rattle off which pieces in collections had these carving patterns, where in New England they were probably made, and the probable date range the piece was made. It was a delight to be in the audience.
Carved frame and panel components from a 17th century style chest.
Demo board on how to create the patterns.
Very nice example of more complex 17th century decorative carving! 
The simplicity and technical skill in the 17th century woodworking he does has been inspiring to me.

I could only really fit in 3 sessions! there were another 23 over the day that I could not get to in the overlapping schedule!!  We all had some tough decisions to make, but I was a happy as a pig in mud...

That evening was the big dinner for all the WIA delegates/participants. Peter Follansbee was the keynote speaker. That was OK by me, and once again Peter oozed knowledge and valuable insights.
It had been a full day. I arrived back at my hotel like the cat who got the cream.

Day 2. I began the day going to the session by Christopher Schwarz on "Joinery planes: Sharpening and Use", which also involved a potted history on the tools. Very informative and nice at last to hear Chris. I have been following his blog for several years, and corresponded with him a number of times, so it was nice to meet him at last.
Chris holding forth on planes.
The next session I went to was Roy Underhill's  "Meet the mystery mallet". Having run his poplar TV woodworking show for over 30 years, "The Woodwright's Shop", Roy is an accomplished entertainer as well as an incredibly knowledgeable traditional woodworker. Lots of fun but also very informative. Great to be there, and a taste of things to come for me, as I was already booked in to attend one of Roy's Woodwright School 5 day classes directly after the WIA.
How is this possible?.
Roy shows us how it's done
 The third session I did that day was with Peter Galbert: "The windsor chair, from log to living room"
Once again, this fed right into my yearning for all things green woodworking:  Peter demonstrated the making of many parts of the windsor chair, including riving and hewing the arm from a log and then steam bending it right there before our eyes. He made it look so easy! A very informative session too.
Peter took us on a fantastic chairmaking journey.

That evening I was at "The Planemaker's Dinner", where the speakers were a panel of boutique plane makers. Very interesting stuff.
The lack of training and reduced pathways for kids to get into woodworking generated some discussion and comment in the room. This was not the first time I had heard these discussions over the weekend. There seems to be a general consensus that   woodworking ("Shop" as it is called here) is disappearing from schools and getting dumbed down too.
Hey, this area is my specialty!! That night I wrote an email to one of the WIA organisers, suggesting that they should get me back next year to run sessions on how to get kids into woodworking. I think I have lots to offer here.

Another full-on day.Somewhere in there I also returned to the Market Place and participated again in the Hand Tool Olympics.At both of those dinners I got to sit with some really nice guys.There was much chewing of the fat to  be done... It's a shame that I couldn't attend the other heap of sessions there was no time to do.    ...Hey, I was very happy with my lot for that day though.
One tiny portion of the market place.
So many beautiful old carving tools for sale!

Day 3 was a half day, just the morning. I went to Chris Schwarz's "Tool boxes and benches from home centre materials". Which was a lot of fun and kind of fits in with my bent for recycling packing crates  (in preference to going to the big green hardware stores in WA).
It's a kind of "woodworking for the common person" sort of approach. Great stuff.

That was it! WIA 2013 was over.

I was so glad to get there after having wistfully looked at the programs on the internet for several years each time it came around. What a privilege and a pleasure to actually be there. Hand tool woodworking is so huge here in the USA, compared to Australia...

It was an event worth travelling across the world to attend.  A great networking opportunity, a chance to meet the people whose blogs I have been following, a chance to make new friends, and a chance to learn so much. What more could I ask for?

I'd come all this way from Australia, so I was going to make the most of it.
My woodworking adventure in the USA had just begun!!