Sash Building at the Woodwright’s School

In November I had the pleasure of attending a two-day class on window sash construction at Roy Underhill’s school in Pittsboro, NC.  It was an absolute joy to be in the workshop there, visit Ed’s tool store upstairs, and hangout with some remarkable people I met.

The course opened with an introduction to the characteristics of window sash completed with hand tools.  We discussed the American approach with ‘stick and rabbet’ planes as well as the English approach of using sash ovolos and sash fillisters to separately complete the moulding and glazing rabbet.  Much of the first morning after this introduction was related to tuning and using the ‘stick and rabbet’ planes.  Roy and the group went to each bench to set-up and troubleshoot our planes to make sure they were cutting an appropriate profile.  Once set, we cut an example profile to measure the depth of the ovolo and rabbet for our layout of the guide sticks and determined the mortise chisel width from the resulting fillet.

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Photo courtesy of G. Lucko

The next step of the course was to use our created guide sticks to layout the joinery for a 4-light divided window sash.  Roy stressed the importance of this layout and the students viewed each others work to make sure we all had are layout lines correctly executed. The first joinery steps were then to chop the mortises and saw the tenon shoulders on the rail and stiles.  The mortise in the upright muntin bar was also chopped.

Day two began with another excellent breakfast as the Small Cafe BB and a pleasant walk to the school.  Upon Roy’s arrival, I inquired about the frame saw hanging in the school window that I had been pondering about with a fellow classmate while we were waiting.  Roy graciously gave me a brief tutorial on the saw and let me have a go at it.

Once class began this second day it flew by with a fury of activity.  We finished up any work from the day before and then worked to mould the rails, stiles, and two muntin bars.  It sure was a joy to use a beautiful, well-tuned wooden sash moulding plane!  Tenon cheeks were then saw and the assembly began following a tutorial by Roy on the scribed joints of sash with ovolo moulding.  This process involved the use of several other remarkable antique tools, sash templates and long in-cannel paring gouges.  After completing the scribing of each mortise and tenon joint in the window sash (10 in total), I began putting my sash together.  A little paring and a bit of sawing was needed, but when the clamps were put on Roy and I watched as the joints pulled together.

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Completed sash and the end of a great two days!
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Picture my daughter drew for Roy which he promptly hung on his bulletin board. What a nice moment.

80″ rabbet and 150+ year old plane

I set forth to make an item for my house, a length of trim for the front of my fireplace which conceals a speaker cable.  The piece stared with an 8 ft length of 1×2 red oak.  A rabbet was to be cut on the bottom, back edge to match the size of the speaker cable.  I needed an 80″ run to cover the fireplace front and a short length on either side mitered to conceal the cable as it wrapped around the hearth.  One immediate dilemma was that I only have a 5 ft bench, it is hard to plane items longer than ones bench.  So using a length of 1×4 pine, a piece of remnant moulding from my door project (3/8″ thick stop), and a screw, I fashioned a long sticking board that was secured to the bench using holdfasts.

I placed the piece in the sticking board and got out my wooden moving fillister plane, a pre-civil war English made example I got at the tool store about the Woodwright’s School.  I next adjusted the fence and depth stop to match the rabbet size I needed.  Then I set the depth of cut using my plane hammer.  I began on the far end of the board and worked carefully to define the shoulder down the piece’s entire length.  With shoulder defined, I worked the entire rabbet while walking down the length of the board.  I was amazed how easy it was cut such a long joint with this set up.  I did take some time given the rabbet depth and my son and father-in-law sat on the bench to keep it more stable as I worked.  After some time, a beautiful pile of red oak curls lay about and the rabbet was done.  I next rounded over the face edge with my block plane so the piece had the appearance of a quarter round.  I cut the miters for the end pieces and secured them with screws through the miter.  Given that one would have to crawl on the floor to see the screws, the work did not require a more elegant fastening approach.  Dropped the piece into place and the trim now covers the cable in question.

 

Visiting the Woodwright’s School

Woodwright's School

In August I had the pleasure of visiting Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC. It was a great escape for me and a beautiful drive through the heart of the central Appalachian mountains of WV, NC, and VI, passing enough oak trees to even satisfy a forester and woodworker. Pittsboro is an intriguing town lying somewhere between rural NC and the influence of the Raleigh/Durham metro area.

Given I started watching Roy’s show the Woodwright’s Shop in the early 80’s as a boy and have seen 100s of his PBS episodes, it was a surreal experience to arrive in the classroom on that Sunday morning. As an homage to my previous self, a hangover added to the storyline. My trip was much anticipated and it turned out to exceed my exceptions. He and co-instructor Bill Anderson make quite a team, are great instructors with amazing body of woodworking knowledge, and are two remarkable men. I feel privileged to have met them. The experience left its mark on me and I took much home with me to aid in my woodworking and perhaps even in the wider breadth of my life. I hope I can make a return trip for their week long class, Bench Week. The visit to the tool store upstairs owned by Ed Lebetkin was also worth the trip. Returned home with a refurbished, pre-civil war moving fillister plane.

The world would be a different place if all weekends for all people followed such a narrative.

Me at Woodwright's School

Damn Those Mosquitoes – Building Screen Panels

As my woodworking space is in a shed, I get to not only experience the sites and sounds of hand tools working but also the ups and downs of the seasons. This winter the cold made building a little difficult. I think I managed to work on my workbench build until it hit 8 degrees in the shed. The hot just requires a beverage and shower. The mosquitoes are another story. So one of my goals this summer was to build screen panels for the doorway of my shed. That way I did not have to contend with many of those little devils any more.

The screen panels were a pretty simple design. I did not go all out and use mortise and tenon. They were built using 1×4 yellow-pine and half-lap joinery. The half-laps were glued and screwed. I had read about half-lap joinery and seen how others have sawed the shoulders and split out the waste (cheeks of the half-lap) with a chisel. I learned very quickly that splitting yellow-pine yields a frustrated woodworker and poor joints. Thus I did some additional reading and finished the remaining six end joints by sawing the shoulders and cheeks. That worked pretty well and the two panels turned out solid and pretty square. Actually much squarer than the doorway of the shed so some planing with my Jack plane was needed to get the fit finalized. The fibreglass screen as attached to the panels using a staple gun. The panels have been a great addition to my workshop and now the mosquitoes I see are flying outside behind the screens and not in my ear as I try to saw or chop.

Wooden screen panels half-lap joinery